Thousands of NSW health workers are still unvaccinated and have just two weeks to get the jab, 16 September 2021

Thousands of NSW health workers have still not had one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. They have just two weeks to get vaccinated or risk losing their jobs.

All health care workers working for state facilities including ambulance workers and volunteers must get their first dose by September 30 in order to continue working.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters today that 88 per cent of staff have had at least one dose of a vaccine but rates in Sydney areas were higher – around 91 per cent had received a first dose and 86 per cent were fully vaccinated.

“There are areas that are a bit less – as you might expect some of the areas up on the north coast that traditionally have certain reluctance,” he said.

He said regional area vaccination rates were around 84 per cent.

Workers have until November 30 to have their second dose unless they can produce a medical contraindication certificate. About 80 per cent are already fully vaccinated.

Mr Hazzard said the consequences of not being vaccinated were still being looked at but indicated people could lose their jobs.

“If you’re in a position where you’re putting yourself, your colleagues or your patients at risk, you probably can’t continue in that position but we’re working through that,” Mr Hazzard said. 

While there would be an impact from the loss of staff, Mr Hazzard said figures from Victoria last year showed that thousands of staff had to be taken offline (or furloughed) because they were a close contact of a positive case.

“So on balance, the decision was taken that even if there were some who chose not to be vaccinated … we are still far better off than we would be if we didn’t have that mandatory requirement,” he said.

“There is no alternative but to be vaccinated.

“If you work in the health system you have an obligation, first of all yourself, to make sure that you stay healthy and fit … but secondly you have an obligation to the patients – patients come into our hospitals in the expectation that they’ll be kept safe.”

A NSW Health spokesman told that vaccination rates in regional and rural health districts were increasing as more supply from the Federal Government became available.

“Early supply constraints necessitated that the vaccination program focus on vaccinating healthcare workers in areas where they were most at risk of contact with a COVID-19 patient including emergency departments, intensive care units and respiratory wards,” the spokesman said.

“Healthcare workers in hotel quarantine were also prioritised.”

Up to 14 September 2021:

  • 88 per cent of NSW Heath’s workforce has received one dose of the vaccine and 80 per cent have received two doses of the vaccine;
  • 88 per cent of all clinical staff in the NSW public health system had the first dose and 81 per cent were fully vaccinated;
  • 91 per cent of staff at metropolitan local health districts had their first dose and 86 per cent were fully vaccinated;
  • 84 per cent of staff at regional and rural local health districts had their first dose and 76 per cent were fully vaccinated; and
  • 88 per cent of staff at NSW Ambulance had their first dose and 81 per cent were fully vaccinated.

More ‘intense engagement’ required

Health Services Union President Gerard Hayes told the union supported vaccination and the number of unvaccinated workers still in the system was concerning, noting the deadline had already been extended by a month.

He said there needed to be “intense engagement” with those who had not been vaccinated, even if this had to happen “at an individual level”, to understand what the concerns were and to provide them more information or to talk through their options.

“It requires more than email saying ‘you’ve got until the 30th or else’,” he said.

Mr Hayes said Health couldn’t afford to lose any staff during this crucial time.

“More pressure is building in the health system and this will play out across the next six to seven weeks so while those demands are increasing, the supply of health workforce decreasing at any level will increase strain across the system,” he said.

He said he thought there were about 130,000 NSW health workers requiring vaccination, meaning there were about 15,000 that had yet to receive a jab.

However, he has a gut feeling that just 0.5-1 per cent of health care workers were genuinely against vaccination and the rest would be willing to get jabbed if the process was more inclusive.

“We’ve got to get people to be clear about what these decisions mean in relation to vaccination and their health, vaccination and their careers and vaccination and the community,” he said.

“They are big issues and very important issues and they need to be addressed in an inclusive manner.”