NSW hospitals face crisis as staff refuse Covid-19 jab

The Australian, 15 September 2021

Hundreds of healthcare workers in NSW face the prospect of being stood down after September 30 as a hard core of vax-averse staff, many of them nurses, hold out against receiving a Covid-19 jab.
Figures show that one in six NSW Health employees are yet to have their first Covid-19 jab, with 12 per cent of clinical staff ­remaining unvaccinated.

The NSW government has given healthcare staff until September 30 to have their first jab, otherwise they will be stood down, unable to work.

Health Services Union secretary Gerard Hayes said he believed most of the 16 per cent of NSW health staff who are yet to be vaccinated are hesitant rather than anti-vax.

NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said she believed the vast majority will be vaccinated within the next two weeks.

However, Mr Hayes said there was a small proportion of healthcare workers who were trenchantly anti-vaccination and would not change their mind. He estimated about half a per cent of healthcare workers fell into this category. NSW Health employs 105,000 full-time equivalent staff, meaning about 500 are likely to be anti-vaxxers.

“I think the hardcore anti-vaxxers are probably about maybe point five of a per cent,” Mr Hayes said. “I think the great majority of healthcare workers who are not yet vaccinated are reasonable people who have been influenced by social media, by commentaries all over the world. These aren’t silly people.

“The main thing that I’m hearing is ‘well, if I put something in my body that what’s going to ­happen in 10 years’, and that sort of thing.

“I think with the appropriate medical and clinical intervention from an educational point of view, those sorts of concerns get allayed reasonably quickly.”

Brett Holmes, general secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, said surveys indicated about 6 per cent of nurses were anti-vaccination, but many of them would end up getting a vaccine rather than losing their jobs.

But he also warned that hospitals were likely to struggle with staffing shortages if hundreds of nurses who refused a jab were ­unable to work.

“There will be an impact upon staffing which clearly we’re holding our breath about,” Mr Holmes said. “They’ll have to find a way to cut services. And if there’s a crisis that arises, then they’ll need to call on more of the private hospital workforce to help out.”

Dr Chant said there was a “real push” to get all healthcare workers vaccinated within the next two weeks. She said 80 per cent were now fully vaccinated.

“I am really confident that healthcare workers will put the interests of their patients and the interests of their own health and I’m very convinced we will achieve very high vaccine coverage,” Dr Chant said.

“Our health staff are seeing the consequences day in, day out, of Covid-19 infections.

“They are seeing patients in ICU, hearing stories, and I’d be very surprised if we’d have as much hesitancy in our healthcare workers.

“We will obviously deal with the process. We have other mandatory vaccination … processes where we work through with individuals. They may be needing special counselling, they may need their special circumstances addressed, and (NSW) Health ­always takes a compassionate, thoughtful approach because we know education and information is the best way to convert people who may have questions.

“But I’m very confident the vast majority of healthcare staff will be vaccinated,” she said.