One in six NSW Health staff unvaccinated, documents to state Parliament reveal

ABC News, 15 September 2021

One in six NSW Health staff are yet to have their first COVID-19 jab, despite a looming mandatory vaccination deadline, according to documents submitted to state Parliament.

All NSW Health workers are required to have their first vaccine dose by September 30 and to be fully vaccinated by November 30.

However, answers to an inquiry into the state government's management of the pandemic showed that, as of September 2, about 16 per cent of staff were yet to receive their first dose.

Just over three-quarters (77 per cent) of the workforce had received both jabs and vaccination rates were slightly higher in frontline workers.

NSW Health said 88 per cent of clinical staff and NSW Ambulance staff had their first jab and 81 per cent were fully vaccinated, as of September 14.

Chair of Liverpool Hospital's medical staff council Miriam Levy was frustrated by frontline workers who refused to get the jab.

Liverpool Hospital has been one of the hardest hit in the Delta outbreak — a cluster which began inside the geriatric ward there has infected more than 35 people and has led to 12 patient deaths.

"Even in hospitals that are in very low risk areas, patients are turning up there with COVID, the wards are filling up in the eastern suburbs too … it doesn't matter where you work, COVID is coming," Dr Levy said.

"If there are anti-vaxxers in the community of healthcare workers, I bet it's a minority but, if they are, I don't think healthcare work is the place for them.

"I have no tolerance for it in the setting of COVID."

Dr Levy said walk-in appointments should be available for healthcare workers at all vaccine hubs ahead of the September 30 deadline, to avoid losing any staff who have not been able to get their shot.

"All staff are necessary. There's no fat in the system of NSW Health," she said.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he was confident all would get their first shot before the deadline.

"Some of the staff in the more clinical areas, it's a much higher percentage than other areas," Minister Hazzard told the ABC.

"I think we should be looking a lot better very soon but it's still a very good outcome to date."

Deadline for jab looms

From Friday, aged care staff are required to have their first vaccination dose.

Despite being only a few days away, about 8 per cent of that workforce nationally — or around 20,000 people — still have not had a shot.

In NSW, there's a slightly higher uptake, with only 6 per cent of aged care staff still to get their first vaccination.

There have been repeated warnings in NSW that October is likely to see a peak of hospitalisations and patients in ICUs.

Minister Hazzard said the September 30 deadline was still far enough away that any lag in vaccinations could be resolved before the October surge.

"One thing about COVID is [you've got to] deal with the issues you've got to worry about right now," he said.

"Hopefully, all the staff out there all understand their obligations to their patients and they're going out and getting vaccinated.

"There might be a variety of reasons why some aren't. There are people who've been ill, off on leave, a whole range of reasons, so let's not go rushing and drawing conclusions before the event."

Union runs vaccine lottery

Health Services Union (HSU) NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said the uptake of vaccines was accelerating, but there were concerns about staff not being able to work if they did not get a shot in time.

"It's not as if [NSW] Health have huge reserves [of staff]," Mr Hayes said.

"At any given time there could be 1,000 health workers isolating at home to make sure they don't spread the virus."

Mr Hayes said many of the initially hesitant members had changed their minds and received their vaccination, but some were still reluctant.

The Union is running a lottery for members in NSW and Queensland who get the jab, offering 50 $1,000 prizes.

"The good thing at the moment is we've got time to be able to talk to the percentage of people who have been hesitant, get them the right information and education to be able to make an informed decision," Mr Hayes said.

"I think NSW Health is planning as well as they can do, the vaccination rate is increasing.

"If Health can engage with people, if need be, on an individual basis, I think that will go some way to making sure that problem is resolved before we have a major problem throughout October."