NSW health minister Brad Hazzard has reached an agreement with the state’s peak medical groups to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all health workers.
A public health order will be signed by Hazzard in the coming days, The Sydney Morning Herald reports, as the state reaches a grim milestone of having COVID-19 transmission in a hospital every day now for a fortnight.
Doctors, nurses, allied health staff and cleaners working in hospitals will all be subject to the mandate. Administrative staff and those manning medical reception desks are also expected to comply.
The minister is considering a proposal that the order require first doses of the mandatory vaccine for health workers be administered by the end of September, and all second doses by November 30.
According to Hazzard, there was no room for delay in the context of the ‘one in 100-year pandemic’, citing Victoria’s experience in 2020 when 10,000 frontline health staff could not work because they were considered to be close contacts.
“We have already lost a number of staff in NSW for the same reason at hospitals like St George, Liverpool and Nepean, and in my view, there is no time to waste,” the minister told the SMH.
“The public and private health systems have an obligation to provide safe work environments for their staff and safe circumstances for their patients.”
NSW recorded 644 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm.
Of these locally acquired cases, 134 are linked to a known case or cluster – 107 are household contacts and 27 are close contacts – and the source of infection for 508 cases is under investigation. pic.twitter.com/cdIcVbmw2p
— NSW Health (@NSWHealth) August 20, 2021
In the last 24 hours NSW has recorded 644 cases of local community transmission, with 41 of the recorded cases infectious while in the community. Overnight four people died with COVID-19: two men in their 70s, a woman in her 80s, and another man in his 80s. A total of 121 people have died in NSW since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed on Friday morning that her government would also make the vaccination of childcare and disability support workers a priority.
Healthcare providers will commence campaigns to educate the workforce about the new mandate before September 30 and those with a certified medical reason will be allowed to seek an exemption by September 16.
The representative health bodies to meet with Hazzard on Wednesday included the Australian Medical Association, NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of General Practitioners and private hospitals.
The general secretary of the union representing 73,000 nurses and midwives cautioned that supply and access of vaccine doses was still a ‘major problem’. Brett Holmes added that the union did however ‘strongly support’ the vaccination of healthcare workers.
“We need to understand how many staff will be excluded from the workplace on a drop dead date only weeks away,” he told the SMH.
“There is still a concerning number of people – about 11% — indicating their hesitancy about vaccination or how difficult it is to get a vaccine, particularly in regional areas.”
A recent survey conducted by the union reported that 75% of 7,000 nurse respondents are fully vaccinated. Responses also showed that about 10% of public sector nurses indicated they would consider quitting their jobs if vaccination against COVID-19 was made compulsory.
“A substantial amount of work needs to be done to allay concerns. We are on a knife’s edge at the moment and, as strongly as I feel about vaccination, I do not want to see members who are vaccinated left short-staffed by those who are excluded from the workplace,” Holmes added.