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Covid 19 Vaccinations in Workplace

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Covid 19 Vaccination in the Workplace

Covid 19 Vaccinations in Workplace

Can your employer force you to have Covid 19 vaccination?

  1. Can an employer enforce Covid vaccination at the workplace.

The  blanket rule here is pretty succinct.  In the current circumstances, the overwhelming majority of employers should assume that they cannot require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus.

Australian Government’s policy is;  that vaccination is indeed voluntary.

Running in tandem with this philosophy  is  the government aim to have as many Australians vaccinated as possible.

The Australian Federal Minister for Trade, Dan Tehan, stated on the 11th of April, that the government aims to immunise all Australians by the end of the year.

Subsequent to this however, as the press continually reminds us, there has been ever changing speculation as to this time line.

At this point I hasten to add, that of course, as is the case with so many “blanket rules”, there are a limited  number of exceptions to the rule, and circumstances where an employer may be able to require their employees to be vaccinated against Covid 19.

These  circumstances  are highly fact dependent, and  take into account the given  workplace, and each employee’s circumstances.

Relevant factors an employer should consider include:

  • whether a specific law, (such as a state or territory public health law); requires an employee to be vaccinated. Examples of this may be in industries such as meat packing works, hospital workers or front line responders to the pandemic
  • whether an enterprise agreement, other registered agreement, or employment contract includes a provision about requiring vaccinations; such as in a nursing home environment, and
  • if no law, agreement or employment contract applies that requires vaccination; whether it would be lawful and reasonable for an employer to give their employees a direction to be vaccinated,  which needs to be assessed on a case by case basis.

In relation to these exceptions, further considerations by the employer also needs to include whether an employee has a legitimate reason for not being vaccinated (for example, a medical reason), and how protections for employees under anti-discrimination laws may apply

  1. THIS NOW LEADS TO SOME OF THE MORE COMPLEX ISSUES FACING EMPLOYERS. HOW WILL PROTECTION FOR EMPLOYEES UNDER THE ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAWS APPLY?  WILL IT BE UNLAWFUL DISCRIMINATION FOR AN EMPLOYER TO REQUIRE THAT THEIR EMPLOYEES BE VACCINATED AGAINST COVID19

If there is no specific law requiring that an employee be vaccinated,  employers  should be very cautious about imposing mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies or conditions on staff.

The need for vaccination  should  be assessed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the nature of the workplace and the individual circumstances of each employee.

This is because there are medical reasons why a person may not be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, including because of protected attributes such as pregnancy or disability.

For instance, at present, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists does not recommend the routine use of COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy because pregnant and breastfeeding women were not included in clinical trials of the vaccines. COVID-19 vaccination may also be unsafe or contrary to medical advice for some people with disability.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (SDA) and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) (DDA) make it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of pregnancy and disability in many areas of public life, including in employment. ‘Disability’ is broadly defined in the DDA and includes past, present and future disabilities, as well as imputed disabilities.

For people who are pregnant or have a disability, a blanket rule mandating COVID-19 vaccination is likely to engage the ‘indirect discrimination’ provisions in the SDA and the DDA.

In broad terms, indirect discrimination occurs when a person is required to comply with a general requirement or condition (such as mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations), and they are unable to do so because of their pregnancy, or disability, and it has the effect of disadvantaging them.

Under both the SDA and the DDA, indirect discrimination may occur if an employer requires, or proposes to require, that a person comply with a general requirement or condition.  This means that an employer does not need to seek to enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy,  (for example;  by way of termination, suspension, or performance management), to engage in unlawful discrimination.

It is a defence to a claim of indirect discrimination, if the condition or requirement is shown to be ‘reasonable’ in the circumstances of the case.

Whether or not,  a requirement by an employer that it’s employees receive COVID-19 vaccinations is considered ‘reasonable’ by a court,  is likely to be highly fact dependent.  This could take  into account the particular workplace, and the employee’s individual circumstances.

Some of the factors that may be relevant under federal discrimination law include:

  • health and safety issues and the reasons advanced in favour of the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine requirement;
  • issues relating to the employee’s disability and medical condition;
  • the nature and extent of the disadvantage resulting from the imposition or proposed imposition of the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine requirement;
  • the feasibility of overcoming or mitigating, any disadvantage to the employee by the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine requirement;
  • whether the disadvantage to the employee is proportionate to the result sought by the employer;
  • the nature of the work performed by the employee;
  • whether the employee has close contact with people who are most vulnerable to severe COVID-19 health impacts,  (for example, people working in aged care, disability care or health care);
  • whether the employee interacts with people with an elevated risk of being infected with coronavirus, (for example, flight crew, border control or hotel quarantine workers);
  • the incidence, severity and distribution of COVID-19 in the areas where the work is undertaken;
  • the availability of the vaccine;
  • advice from medical and work health and safety bodies such as the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and Safe Work Australia about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccinations at the relevant times; and
  • whether there are any alternative methods such as testing regimes, remote work, physical distancing or personal protective equipment that might reasonably achieve the employer’s objective without recourse to the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

It is worthwhile to note at this point that, the SDA and the DDA explicitly place the burden of proving ‘reasonableness’ on the person who requires compliance with the requirement or condition — in this case,  the employer.

It is important to note that the DDA also creates an explicit duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with disability, including at work.  This is  discussed in more detail below in the question about requiring employees to attend particular workplaces.   Depending on the circumstances, however, the duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments,’ may also be relevant to the question of whether it is lawful under the DDA for an employer to require that an employee with a disability receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

Another question as to the anti-discrimination legislation’s import on compelling employees to vaccinate, is whether it can  be unlawful discrimination for an employer to require that their employees attend a particular workplace?

There are reasons why some people might be particularly vulnerable to severe COVID-19 health impacts, including because of protected attributes such as age or disability.  Depending on the nature of the work being performed, a blanket rule requiring all employees to attend a particular workplace may constitute indirect discrimination.

As discussed above, whether a general requirement to attend a particular workplace is considered ‘reasonable’ by a court is likely to be highly fact dependent, taking into account the nature of the work and the employee’s individual circumstances. Factors that may be relevant under federal discrimination law include:

–              the reasons advanced in favour of the requirement to attend the workplace, -including operational requirements and reasonable business grounds;

–              issues relating to the employee’s age, disability and medical condition;

–              the nature of the work performed by the employee, whether it is outside or in a confined space, and associated risk of transmission;

–              whether the work involves interacting closely with other staff or with large numbers of people;

–              whether the employee is able to perform their work remotely, and if they have demonstrated the capacity to do so effectively;

–              the incidence, severity and distribution of COVID-19 in the areas where work is undertaken;

–              advice from medical and work health and safety bodies such as the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and Safe Work Australia, about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccinations at the relevant times; and

–              whether other control measures are available and in place in the workplace to minimise the risk of infection, so far as is reasonably practicable.

With respect to disability discrimination, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) (DDA) creates an explicit duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with disability, including at work.

As defined in the DDA, ‘an adjustment to be made by a person is a reasonable adjustment unless making the adjustment would impose an unjustifiable hardship on the person’.  Accordingly, ‘reasonable adjustments’ are all adjustments that do not impose an unjustifiable hardship on the person making the adjustments.

Unjustifiable hardship is a high test, and it recognises that some hardship on businesses and employers may be needed and justifiable to reduce discrimination against people with disability.

Depending on the circumstances, requests to work remotely, at different times or on different shifts, or to have stricter control measures in place, may be considered reasonable adjustments.

In any event Employers should get their own legal advice if they’re considering making coronavirus vaccinations mandatory in their workplace, or they operate in a coronavirus high-risk environment (for example, health care or meat processing).

  1. I WOULD NOW BRING YOUR ATTENTION TO STATE AND TERRITORY GOVERNMENTS, AND CONSIDER WHAT PUBLIC HEALTH ORDERS HAVE BEEN, OR COULD  BE MADE,  THAT REQUIRE VACCINATION AGAINST CORONAVIRUS, AND HOW THIS CAN FURTHER IMPACT ON THE OBLIGATIONS OF EMPLOYERS AND EMPLOYEE?

State and Territory governments may make public health orders requiring the vaccination of workers, (for example, in identified high-risk workplaces or industries), in their State or Territory.

Employers and workers need to comply with any public health orders that apply to them.

In late March 2021, the Queensland Government issued a public health direction mandating coronavirus vaccination for some workers. The direction was issued on 31 March 2021 and affects:

  • Health service employees
  • Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) employees
  • Hospital and health service contractors

At this stage, no other Australian state or territory has issued public health orders enabling employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus.  However, this may change.

This being the case, I think it is noteworthy to further unpack what the Queensland government’s public health direction means, and its’ mandates for the categories of workers described.   We need to consider  both what it relates to,  as well as illustrating the potential frameworks that may be developed for other states and territories, and other categories of workers.

Public Health Orders aims to protect the over-all health of the community.     To this end, the Queensland Public Health Orders cover those working in hospitals, and health workers who are at a higher risk of having contact with COVID-positive patients,  must follow COVID-19 vaccination, testing and the wearing of  masks requirements.

These workers are considered to be relevant employees under this Direction.

At this point, you may well think that other States and Territories could adopt comparative Orders, but to date this has not been the case.

In Queensland now, to continue working as a current relevant employees under the Queensland Public Health Orders, one must comply with vaccination requirements if you are likely to have direct contact with a COVID-19 patient.

This means one must:

–              have received one dose of Pfizer or Astra Zeneca by 31 March; and

–             receive a second dose of Pfizer on or around 21 April or Astra Zeneca on or around 23 June; and

–              have notified the Hospital and Health Service Chief Executive or the Queensland Ambulance Commissioner (or nominated representatives) of your vaccination.

I hasten to add at this point, that given recent well-publicised issues regarding the supply chain for vaccines, this may be indicative only, as a time line for such time that vaccination is available to these workers.

For New employees under the Orders,  if a new employee starts work after 31 March 2021, they must comply with vaccination requirements if you are likely to have direct contact with a COVID-19 patient.

This means one must:

–              have received one dose of Pfizer or Astra Zeneca before starting work; and

–              receive a second dose of Pfizer on or around 3 weeks after your first dose or Astra Zeneca on or around 12 weeks after your first dose; and

–              have notified the Hospital and Health Service Chief Executive or the Queensland Ambulance Commissioner, (or nominated representatives), of your vaccination.

If one does not comply with vaccination requirements, direct contact with a COVID-19  patient  will only be allowed if:

–              emergency care must be provided immediately

–              there is no other vaccinated employee available who can provide care or transport

–              you must provide services to maintain safe operation of the area where the COVID-19 patient is located.

(Again I refer to my comments as to current issues of vaccine supply).

If one does not comply with vaccination requirements and enter an area where a COVID-19 patient is located, one must:

–              report what happened to the Hospital and Health Service Chief Executive or the Queensland Ambulance Commissioner as soon as possible; and

–              undertake surveillance testing until 14 days have passed since you had contact with the person or entered the area.

If asked by an emergency officer, one must provide evidence that they comply with vaccination requirements.

If one does not comply with vaccination requirements, one can still work in a Queensland Hospital and Health Service or for the Queensland Ambulance Service as long as you do not work as a relevant employee. This means you cannot work in, or enter an area with COVID-19 patients.

As to the requirement for testing for Relevant Employees who are likely to be in direct contact with a COVID-19 patient,  they must undertake surveillance testing and notify their employer of the test.

This means they need to:

–              have a saliva test each shift

–              have a weekly throat and deep nasal swab if you are away from work for 7 days or more, one must continue to be tested until 14 days have passed since you have been at work;

–              have a test when directed by an emergency officer; or

–              continue to undertake surveillance testing if you work as a quarantine facility worker.

If you comply with surveillance testing and do not have COVID-19 symptoms, you do not need to isolate or quarantine while waiting for your result.

Again,  under this Queensland  order, what if a relevant and/or new employee refuses to be vaccinated, tested or wear a face mask when required?

If such a category of worker refuses to follow the vaccination, testing or face mask requirements in this Direction and continues to work as a relevant employee, they  may be given an on-the-spot fine of $1,334 as to vaccination and testing:   a $200 fine for breach of face mask adherence; or  a court-imposed penalty of up to $13,345 or 6 months’ imprisonment.

  1. I WOULD NOW DRAW YOUR ATTENTION TO AGREEMENTS OR CONTRACTS RELATING TO VACCINATIONS AND ASK HOW THEY WOULD ADDRESS THE VACCINATION OF EMPLOYEES?

Some contracts or agreements may contain terms relating to vaccinations or coronavirus vaccinations specifically.  Employers and employees should check to see if the term applies to coronavirus vaccinations,  for example, a term relating only to flu vaccinations would not encompass Coronavirus vaccines.

Even where a contract or an agreement term applies to coronavirus,  employers and employees will need to consider whether the term complies with anti-discrimination laws.

A term that is contrary to anti-discrimination laws will not be enforceable.

If in doubt, employers and employees should consider getting legal advice on these issues.

At this point, I would now like to touch on what happens when indeed,  Lawful and Reasonable directions are given by Employers to their Employees,  as they relate to the issues surrounding Covid 10.

Employers can direct their employees to be vaccinated if the direction is lawful and reasonable.

Whether a direction is lawful and reasonable needs to be assessed on a case by case basis.

For a direction to be lawful, it needs to comply with any contract, award or agreement, and any Commonwealth, State or Territory law that applies, for example, an anti-discrimination law.

There are a  range of factors that may be relevant when determining whether a direction is reasonable.  This includes  whether the direction is a reasonably practicable measure to eliminate, or minimise risks as they relate to Work Health and Safety laws.

On its own, the coronavirus pandemic  does not automatically make it reasonable for an employer to direct their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus.  Some circumstances in which a direction may be more likely to be reasonable include where:

  • employees interact with people with an elevated risk of being infected with coronavirus (for example, employees working in hotel quarantine or border control), or
  • employees have close contact with people who are most vulnerable to the health impacts of coronavirus infection (for example, employees working in health care or aged care).

Work health and safety considerations are an important factor to consider in working out whether a direction is reasonable.    In this regard I would urge employers to seek the guidance of Safe Work Australia, and other  Commonwealth, State or Territory “Workplace Health and Safety”  regulators to better inform the drafting of their contracts and agreements with workers.

In review then, we can see that In certain  circumstances, an employer may be able to require a prospective employee to be vaccinated against coronavirus.

Again, reiterate  that before requiring that a prospective employee be vaccinated before starting employment,   employers should consider their obligations and responsibilities carefully,  particularly  in reference to  general protections or anti-discrimination laws.

  1. WHAT THEN ARE AN EMPLOYER’S OPTIONS IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHERE AN EMPLOYEE REFUSES TO BE VACCINATED.   WHAT HAPPENS IN THIS SCENARIO?  CAN AN EMPLOYER TAKE DISCIPLINARY ACTION IF AN EMPLOYEE REFUSES TO GET VACCINATED?

If an employee refuses to be vaccinated,  contrary to a specific law, agreement or contract that requires vaccination; or after receiving a clear, and repeated lawful and reasonable direction, an employer should, as a first step, ask the employee to explain their reasons for refusing the vaccination.

If the employee has provided a legitimate reason for not being  vaccinated,  (for example, the employee has an existing medical condition), the employee and their employer should consider whether there are any other options available instead of vaccination. This could include alternative work arrangements, and it would be worthwhile considering if alternative working arrangements could be put in place.

Whether disciplinary action is reasonable will depend on the circumstances.

If an employee refuses a direction to be vaccinated, it’s unlikely that their employer can stand down the employee.

Stand down is only available in certain circumstances, and during the coronavirus out-break employers were able to stand their employees down:

  • When the business had closed because of an enforceable government direction, meaning the employee can’t be usefully employed, even if working from another location;
  • When there’s a stoppage of work due to lack of supply for which the employer can’t be held responsible; and
  • Where a qualifying employer or legacy employer used Jobkeeper,  enabling stand down direction under the temporary Jobkeeper changes to the Fair Work Act.

Further, employers generally don’t have the power to suspend employees without pay, unless an enterprise, or other registered agreement, award or employment contract, allows them to do so.

Before taking any action,  as first action an employer should talk to the employee, and discuss the employee’s reasons for not wanting to get vaccinated.   You could find that the employee may have a medical condition that means the vaccine may not be safe for the employee to take.

In this instance, the employer should consider if there are other options available to keep the workplace safe in lieu of vaccination.

If attempts to reconcile the matter have failed to arrive at a workable arrangement for all parties through discussion and consultation,  an employer may be able to take disciplinary action.

This could  include  termination of employment, against an employee for refusing to be vaccinated, if the employee’s refusal is in breach of:

–              a specific law, or

–              a clear and repeated lawful and reasonable direction requiring vaccination.

As set out, whether an employer can take such disciplinary action will very much depend on the individual facts and circumstances.

To work out if, and how an employer can take disciplinary action, employers should consider the terms, obligations and rights under any applicable:

–              enterprise agreement or other registered agreement

–              award

–              employment contract

–              workplace policy

–              public health order.

Employers would be well advised as this point to also consider getting legal advice in these situations.

At this point, may I also urge you to do so prior to taking any definitive disciplinary action.   Getting it right before you commit is always a prudent, and dare I say cost saving exercise, when compared to the alternatives of getting it wrong.

As I have  already canvassed, Employees have various protections against being dismissed, or treated adversely in their employment.   Employers should make sure that they follow a fair process, and have a valid reason for termination, or it may breach unfair dismissal, or adverse action laws under the Fair Work Act.

  1. HAVING NOW GOTTEN THUS FAR IN OUR DISCUSSION, WHAT ABOUT THE ISSUE OF  PROVIDING EVIDENCE EITHER OF VACCINATION,  OR TO SUBSTANTIATE AN EMPLOYEES REASONS FOR REFUSAL TO BE VACCINATED.

  Can an employer require an employee to provide  such evidence?  In the situation of refusal to be vaccinated,  can an employer require evidence about why they’ve refused? What would be considered as proof of vaccination?

If an employer has provided a lawful and reasonable direction to be vaccinated for coronavirus and an employee complies, the employer could also ask the employee to provide evidence of their vaccination.

Where an employer wants to direct an employee to provide evidence, the employer should make sure that the requirement to provide evidence is also lawful and reasonable.

As stated above, whether a direction would be lawful and reasonable depends on all of the circumstances.   If it is unclear whether a direction, or the employee’s refusal is reasonable, employers should not take disciplinary action lightly and once again should seek their own legal advice.

This all begets yet another question, what counts as proof of vaccination? 

At this point in time, the Australian Government has said;   Australians will be able to access proof of vaccination after they have been vaccinated.

There will be put in place,  an Australian Immunisation Register,  which will provide for Australians to access this proof and history of their immunisation to provide it to an employer, or other requesting authority.   It is anticipated that this information will be accessible online.

Further to this Register, a medical certificate from a doctor may also satisfy a proof of vaccination requirement.

  1. THE FOLLOW-ON QUESTION TO PROOF ALSO RELATES TO WHEN AN EMPLOYEE REFUSES TO BE VACCINATED, AND WHETHER OR NOT AN EMPLOYER REQUIRE EVIDENCE ABOUT WHY THEY’VE REFUSED?

If an employer has provided a lawful and reasonable direction to be vaccinated and an employee refuses, the employer could also ask the employee to provide evidence of the reason for their refusal.

Where an employer wants to direct an employee to provide evidence, the employer should make sure that the requirement to provide evidence is also lawful and reasonable.  Whether a direction would be lawful and reasonable depends on all of the circumstances surrounding the refusal.

If it is unclear whether a direction, or the employee’s refusal is reasonable, employers should not take disciplinary action lightly, and should first seek their own legal advice.  It is not as simple as it may seem on the surface.

Enquiring further into an employee’s evidence of a medical reason for refusing a vaccination, or of their vaccination status, could raise privacy issues, of which an employer must be very cautious in pressing.  

An employer can only require an employee to provide information about their vaccination status in very limited circumstances.

Both employer and employee must be satisfied that this collection is permitted under Australian Privacy Principle (APP) 3  which covers the Collection of solicited personal information.

Information about  vaccination status is considered sensitive information, and is afforded a higher degree of protection under the Privacy Act, including APP 3.

Generally, an employer must seek the employees consent, in order to collect vaccination status information.  Furthermore,  the collection of this information must be reasonably necessary for one or more of an employer’s functions or activities,  unless an exception applies.

Consent must be freely given and constitute valid consent.   This means that an employer cannot pressure or intimidate an employee to provide information about their vaccination status.

An employer should provide the employee with adequate information about what information will be collected, why it is required, and what it will be used for, prior to then being giving consent.  The employer should also advise the employee whether the information will be disclosed to any third parties.

Employers must also be able to justify the collection of  vaccination status information.

They need to show that it is  reasonably necessary for one or more of their functions or activities; or for agencies, only as they  directly relate to their functions or activities, (which may include preventing or managing COVID-19).

The health and safety risks in your work sector, applicable workplace laws, and contractual obligations, will impact on whether the collection of  vaccination status information, is reasonably necessary for an employer’s activities or functions.

If an employer is requiring  the disclosure of  information about vaccination status on a ‘just in case’ basis;  or if they can achieve their purpose without collecting this information, it will be harder to demonstrate that the collection is reasonably necessary.

In terms of circumstances of a requirement or authorisation by law  there are  some limited circumstances where an employer may be able to require  disclosure of  information about an employees’ vaccination status without consent, if collection of this information is required or authorised by an Australian law.

This includes any Act of the Commonwealth,  of a State or Territory,  or such regulations or  other instrument made under such an Act.   For example, a Public Health Order may require employers to collect employee COVID-19 vaccination information.

Additionally,  against the backdrop of requesting the aforementioned evidence, can it therefore be unlawful discrimination for an employer, business owner, or service provider to require medical evidence as to why an employee or customer  cannot be vaccinated?

It is not unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (SDA) and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) (DDA) for a person, such as an employer or a service provider, to request or require another person to provide information about a medical condition if it is not in connection with, or for the purpose of, unlawfully discriminating against them on the ground of pregnancy or disability.

However,  always remember that  the collection of personal information is also regulated by privacy laws.   Any requirement for individuals to provide evidence of a medical reason for refusing a vaccination, must be made in compliance with those laws.

  1. I WOULD NOW DRAW YOUR ATTENTION TO MANAGING VACCINATIONS IN THE WORKPLACE. CAN AN EMPLOYEE REFUSE TO ATTEND THE WORKPLACE BECAUSE A CO-WORKER ISN’T VACCINATED AGAINST CORONAVIRUS?

Generally, it’s unlikely that an employee could refuse to attend their workplace where a co-worker isn’t vaccinated against coronavirus.

Firstly,  vaccination is not mandatory for most employees,  and most workplaces won’t be able to require their employees to be vaccinated.  As discussed,  co-workers may well  have  legitimate reasons  for  not being  vaccinated.

If an employee refuses to attend the workplace because a co-worker isn’t vaccinated, their employer can direct them to attend the workplace if the direction is lawful and reasonable.

Whether a direction is lawful and reasonable depends on all the circumstances, including the employer’s work health and safety obligations.

If it’s unclear whether a direction or an employee’s refusal is reasonable, employers should consider seeking legal advice before taking disciplinary action.

If an employee has concerns about the safety of the workplace, they should raise their concerns with their employer as soon as possible.   Employers should also consider sharing information about any steps they’ve taken to ensure a safe workplace, to help manage employee concerns.

  1. LASTLY, IN  CONSIDERING ALL THAT AN EMPLOYER NEEDS TO CONTEMPLATE IN OUR CURRENT ENVIRONMENT, WE CAN BUT LOOK TO THE “CRYSTAL BALL”.

  OUR PRESS IS FILLED WITH  QUESTIONS REGARDING;   THE TIME FRAME FOR THE ROLL OUT OF THE VACCINES,  THE SPECTRE OF THEIR SIDE EFFECTS, AND WHAT WILL BE THEIR LEVEL OF EFFECTIVENESS, AS OTHER MUTANT STRAINS OF COVID-19 ARE IDENTIFIED? 

As a lawyer this is most certainly not my expertise, but the answers to the questions may well fall back into my domain.

Currently the vaccine rollout across Australia has met a number of set-backs, with delays in vaccine deliveries, and concerns raised for blood clots developing in recipients,  a rare side effect of the AstraZeneca shot.

The Labor party’s health spokesman Mark Butler recently stated that:

“with Australia only passing one million vaccinations this week, the country already trails well behind the UK and US in its attempt to immunise the population.”

A recently issued government advisory, has also accounted for the concerns related to the AstraZeneca shot, and that an alternative should be sourced and distributed to people 50 years of age and younger  The advice has caused concern, both about the side effects and the logistics of acquiring a new vaccine.

Contingently the government has secured another 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but we are advised that  they will not be delivered until December.

While Employers would need to be aware of current information as available,  health authorities are advising  that as this stage, the blood clotting concerns and other possible side effects of Covid vaccines,  as at present,  appear to mirrors that of  any other vaccines.

Interestingly, it is reported that In the Pfizer safety trial that had 40,000 people participants,  only 0.6 per cent of participants who received the vaccine, reported a “serious safety event” – none of which were assessed as due to the vaccine.

The most common symptoms were pain at the injection site, followed by fatigue and a headache. By comparison, 0.5 per cent of participants who received a placebo vaccine, also reported a serious safety event.

Employers will need to stay informed as to the level of effectiveness of the vaccines as they are further tested by new strains of the COVID-19

The spectre of said effectiveness was raised by a new study out of Israel, a country that has shown a sense of urgency with its vaccine strategy and roll-out.

The study conducted by Tel Aviv University in collaboration with Israel’s largest healthcare provider, CLALIT,  prefaces that the B1351 variant of COVID-19, otherwise known as the South African variant, could “break through” the defences of the Pfizer vaccine.

The study compared 400 people who had received one or two doses of vaccine, and still, subsequently tested positive for the virus after two weeks.  Their results showed the same percentages of Covid-19  infection as  in  the same number of unvaccinated patients.

The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, uncovered the South African variant in about one per cent of cases.  Patients who had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine had the South African strain eight times higher than those unvaccinated.

“We found a disproportionately higher rate of the South African variant among people vaccinated with a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, compared to the unvaccinated group. This means that the South African variant is able, to some extent, to break through the vaccine’s protection,” said Tel Aviv University’s Adi Stern.

The research suggests that the Pfizer vaccine is less effective on the South African strain, compared to the original virus and the UK variant, according to the study.

Researchers, however,  cautioned that the study size was small as the South African variant is relatively rare in Israel and only looked at people who had already contracted the virus, rather than overall infection rates.

A recent trial of the Pfizer vaccine with a group of 800 study volunteers in South Africa, found six people infected with the South African variant and all had received the placebo shot.

In the end, there is a lot that we don’t know and we will all have to be able to adapt in a timely fashion, as new information becomes available, and new laws come into place to accommodate them.

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