The Australian Medical Association has demanded that the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout be completed by the end of the month, warning that further lockdowns will be ‘inevitable’ until roughly 80% of the population is inoculated.
AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid on Tuesday said he had written to health minister Greg Hunt calling for the June 30 deadline, and for a stronger COVID-19 response from the federal government.
While factors such as limited supply have delayed the vaccine rollout, Khorshid argued that these hurdles could ‘no longer justify the failure to complete stage 1A of the rollout’.
“The vaccine program has slipped badly in relation to stage 1A populations, and this could unnecessarily cost lives in settings like aged care and disability,” he said.
The AMA has voiced support for the mandatory vaccination of aged care workers — which will be discussed by national cabinet this week — and has recommended ‘urgent measures’ including a commonwealth program to support businesses and workers in lockdown.
Khorshid said the latest Victorian lockdown has highlighted the lack of commonwealth support for workers and businesses in need, and could ‘undermine the capacity of future public health responses’.
“No state or territory should be put in the very difficult situation of having to choose between a necessary public health response and disrupting lives and livelihoods in the absence of sufficient commonwealth support,” Khorshid said.
He warned that further restrictions and lockdowns would be ‘inevitable,’ until around 80% of the population is vaccinated.
“Despite our strong performance to date, Australia is still vulnerable to a large-scale outbreak of COVID-19. Restrictions have been relaxed to the point where people are living relatively normal lives with lots of movement and contact within the community. QR code requirements are being flouted and testing rates are variable,” he said.
The AMA has suggested that the commonwealth follow the lead of the New Zealand government, which has implemented a COVID-19 Resurgence Payment Scheme.
“This scheme is initiated when New Zealand’s COVID-19 alert system is elevated. We think a similar scheme could be put in place by the commonwealth to support our public health efforts in fighting COVID-19 and to give businesses and workers the certainty they need,” Khorshid said.
The association has also recommended that the commonwealth:
- Boost outreach services to aged care and disability services,
- Deploy rapid response teams in greater numbers to aged care facilities with low vaccination take up,
- Provide GPs with funding support so they can provide advice and support to vaccine-hesitant patients.
The government should also ensure aged care workers are not disadvantaged when seeking to get vaccinated. For example, workers who are required to attend work on a rostered day off to be vaccinated should be paid, and workers who need time off to visit a GP or vaccination hub should be able to access paid leave.
“We should not be forcing aged care workers — who are generally low-paid — to choose between providing for their families and getting vaccinated,” Khorshid said.