Queensland Health to remove COVID-19 vaccine mandate for frontline health staff
Thousands of Queensland nurses and health staff will be able to return to work as Queensland Health is expected to scrap its COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
Health Minister Shannon Fentiman told ABC Radio Brisbane that Queensland’s chief health officer had made the decision that the mandate was no longer necessary.
“We’ve really come to the end of the pandemic, and COVID vaccinations really should be considered the same way that we consider flu vaccinations,” Ms Fentiman said.
She said natural immunity, due to high vaccination and infection rates, would reduce risks to patients and staff.
From Monday, a two-week consultation period with staff, unions, patient safety advocacy groups and other stakeholders will begin.
A final decision will be made by the acting director-general of Queensland Health after the consultation concludes.
Ms Fentiman said during the pandemic 1,100 staff were stood down, and another 1,000 resigned over the mandate.
“We have global workforce shortages, so I think it makes sense now to reconsider this mandate,” she said.
“If someone wants to now reapply for a job with Queensland Health who is not vaccinated for COVID, there’ll be treated the same as any other worker.”
Disciplinary cases to be reviewed
The health minister said Queensland Health will review cases of disciplinary action which were, at the time, taken out against workers that refused to get vaccinated.
“Those workers did not comply with their employment contract, so Queensland Health will take a look at that on a case-by-case basis,” she said.
Ms Fentiman said there are still hundreds of outstanding disciplinary action cases.
Infectious disease physician and clinical microbiologist Paul Griffin said lifting the vaccine mandate for health workers “makes sense”, given the hybrid immunity in the community from both COVID infections and vaccination.
“I think the mandate certainly served its purpose at the time,” Dr Griffin said.
“Any changes to that recommendation at the moment don’t mean that that wasn’t the right thing to do when it was in place.
“But I think that situation has changed.”
Dr Griffin said the biggest risk to lifting the mandate was that “people will think the initial rule was wrong, which isn’t the case”.
“Also, it can give the impression the pandemic’s over and we don’t need to do anything anymore and that’s certainly not the case either,” he said.
“I’d like to think that our health care workers still have very high rates of vaccination.”
Dr Griffin said ending the mandate should not signal that “we don’t really have to do anything to worry about COVID anymore”.
“It still remains a risk and we’ll see another wave in the not-too-distant future,” he said.
“It just means that the mandate side of things isn’t quite justified now but we need to do everything we can to keep as many people protected as possible.
“We still want to encourage people if they are at high risk, or feel they’re at high risk, to take additional steps to protect themselves.”
COVID ‘hasn’t gone away’
Dr Griffin said people were still being admitted to hospital with COVID and “some of them are still quite unwell”.
“While we talk about it a bit less publicly, it’s very clear that it hasn’t gone away,” he said.
“The other side of the world is seeing a sharp increase in cases due probably to a new emerging sub-variant that’s a bit more infectious again.
“The situation is one that we need to watch carefully and it’s very likely we’ll see an increase in transmission here.
“COVID’s going to remain a risk in the background, we’re going to see people in hospital. That’s why we really need to encourage people to get vaccinated and make it as easy as possible for people to get vaccinated so we keep those rates as high as we can.”
Dr Griffin said people aged 18 and older, particularly those with risk factors, should be vaccinated against COVID-19 every six months if they had not been infected with the virus in that time.