New South Wales (NSW) Health Minister Brad Hazzard signed a public health order on Thursday, Aug. 26, requiring all healthcare workers in the Australian state to get vaccinated against the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) to keep their job.
“They’re obviously all exposed to the challenges in that regard and looking after patients. The safest thing you can do is get vaccinated,” Hazzard said.
Healthcare workers in the state must have at least one dose of the vaccine and provide proof of their vaccination status to their employer by Sept. 30 to continue working. They need to be fully vaccinated or be booked in for their second dose by Nov. 30. Hazzard said he also signed the order from the federal government that requires workers in nursing home facilities to get vaccinated.
An exemption has been granted for workers with underlying medical conditions. Despite having priority access in the COVID-19 vaccination rollout since February, 20 percent of staff working for NSW Health are still unvaccinated.
Hazzard urged staff to come forward and get vaccinated to help ease pressure on the public health system.
“Many health workers in NSW are already vaccinated but if all of our staff members are vaccinated it will provide greater protection for patients, visitors and other health staff,” he said. “The public and private health systems have a responsibility to implement every possible measure to provide a safe work environment for their staff and most importantly, safe circumstances for their patients.”
Thousands at risk of losing job in U.S. hospitals and nursing homes
Vaccine mandates are becoming increasingly common in the healthcare industry and nursing home facilities. (Related: Vaccine mandates in healthcare industry are growing, and they are expected to accelerate once FDA grants full approval.)
Earlier this month, the American Hospital Association (AHA) revealed that around 1,500 hospitals in the U.S. are requiring all workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment. That number represents nearly 25 percent of hospitals in the U.S.
The first major hospital system to introduce vaccine mandate was the Houston Methodist Hospital system in Texas back in March 31. The hospital’s decision was met with backlash from employees, and 117 filed a joint lawsuit against the hospital. But the lawsuit was dismissed and more than 100 employees lost their job.
Unvaccinated nursing home workers are also at risk of losing their job.
Genesis Healthcare, the largest nursing home operator in the U.S., gave its approximately 80,000 employees until Aug. 23 to get their first dose. “It’s so easy now to say, ‘Well, Genesis is doing it. Now we’ll do it.’ This is a big domino to fall,” said Brian Lee, who leads Families for Better Care, an advocacy group for long-term care residents.
Some smaller nursing home operations across the U.S. have already required their employees to get vaccinated, including Canterbury Court in Atlanta, Jewish Home Family in Rockleigh, Westminster Village in Bloomington and Hanceville Nursing & Rehab Center in Alabama.
Healthcare unions speak up against vaccine mandate
Healthcare unions have spoken up against vaccine mandates. (Related: Turning Point USA organizes fight against vaccine mandates at nation’s colleges.)
“We have a right to bargain over a new work rule,” said Debbie White, president of Health Professionals and Allied Employees – New Jersey’s largest healthcare union. Most union contracts will prevent employers from imposing mandates without negotiating.
After the New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City gave all of its employees until Sept. 1 to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or be terminated, the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East union announced that it would oppose vaccine mandates. 1199SEIU is composed of more than 450,000 members across six states and the District of Columbia.
“We are not in agreement with a mandate of the COVID-19 vaccine,” George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU, said in a statement. “We agree that vaccination is an important tool to help us move forward, but mandating vaccination is not, nor will it ever, be the answer.”
COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for school staff in NSW
The vaccine mandate in NSW is not limited to healthcare and nursing home workers. COVID-19 vaccines will also be mandatory for school staff as the state’s plan to get children back in classrooms is unveiled.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said a specialized vaccination drive will begin on Sept. 6 at Qudos Bank Arena. All staff will need to be vaccinated by Nov. 8.
A staggered return of students will start on Oct. 25, with kindergarten and Year 1 students returning first. Students in Years 2, 6 and 11 will return on Nov. 1 while the remaining year levels will return on Nov. 8. Year 12 students are currently able to access school facilities in a limited way. They’ll be able to return in full capacity on Oct. 25.
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said masks will be mandatory for staff and high school students and “strongly recommended” for primary school students. The plan could be derailed if cases continue to surge in local council areas of concern.
On Friday, Aug. 27, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI) moved to recommend Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for all children as young as 12. “Vaccination against COVID-19 is recommended for all people from 12 years of age, extending the current recommendation for those 16 years and older,” ATAGI said in a statement.
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