AustCham Corner: Mandatory Vaccination of Health Care Workers

Dear friends

As a father of an Australian nurse and director of a simulation lab at an advanced medical school here in Macau, I am very concerned about what is happening now with vaccinations globally.

There is so much confusion. But the facts are clear—those who vaccinated are surviving the new waves, including the lethal delta variant.

Back home in Australia, it is very sad to know that two New South Wales hospitals are now in lockdown after an unvaccinated student nurse contracted COVD-19. Poor thing—she was just trying to save as many lives as possible.

The 24-year-old infected student nurse was working at two of our busiest hospitals in Sydney. It now has 100 staff and patients already identified as close contacts. It seems the infected student was in place for five days at the Royal North Shore and also did long shifts at the Fairfield Hospital. As present, both hospitals are no longer admitting any new patients.

I fear things may get worse, but I pray I am wrong. However, there is another example that makes me concerned in the COVID combat playbook.

The Australian winter season is the most dangerous time of year, even for influenza. It is very hard to understand for a developed country like Australia why we have such a low vaccinated work force in the healthcare sector. According to our Australian Health Department figures, over two-thirds of staff working in aged care residential nursing homes still remain unvaccinated.

Half of Australia is now in lockdown mode due to the contagiousness of the Delta strain. This lethal variant is now spreading rapidly. First detected in India last year, it is considered more transmissible and currently hitting young people particularly hard.

But the tide is turning.

Starting from October in the United Kingdom, people work in nursing homes must be fully vaccinated, the UK health authority just announced. Italy requires all healthcare staff, including chemists, to be vaccinated before treating patients. Serbia too is watching this model.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is taking a much tougher line: no jab, no job. Starting in May 2021, all staff in the public, private and non-profit sectors must be vaccinated before they can return to work. In Russia, the health authority of Moscow announced that all frontline healthcare workers must be vaccinated with at least their first dose by July 15 or lose their jobs.

These are wise moves.

After all, public health policies are all about reducing risks by preparation and prevention so the public and medical staff who protect them go unharmed.

In Mainland China it is indeed encouraging to see the Chinese National Health Commission with the objective to have 40% of 1.4 billion population to be fully vaccinated by July.

Globally, we saw new COVID cases decline on average at 400,000 cases per day in June. This is less than half the figures recorded in early 2021. However, the new delta strain is testing governments worldwide. To date, about 2.2 billion vaccine doses have been given globally.

And amongst the highest-ranking countries of COVID vaccination, Israel and Canada are almost at 63%, and the United Kingdom close to 60%.  Australia has rolled out vaccination program since February: but why we are only seeing less than 8 percent of the adult population being inoculated so far?

Many of us have this burning question: why there are so many people in the western world like Australia choosing to believe rumours and misinformation on social media about vaccinations? Why not follow science and healthcare, key cornerstones of our economy and society?

I believe that we are now fighting on both fronts: the disease itself and the disease of misinformation that spreads much faster than the virus. Within a nanosecond, we receive nonsense messages like, “covid vaccinations will harm fertility”.  It gets to everyone’s mobile device instantly, moving much faster than the truth.

This is disturbing on many levels. Vaccine hesitancy endangers public safety so we must battle back. We must encourage and nurture our family, friends and community and even strangers to get vaccinated as soon as possible with whatever vaccine they can get. This ensures survival and a quicker recovery. In other words, taking the vaccine is the most powerful way for us to re-establish some semblance of what we knew before—and achieve our hopes and prayers to end this crisis and scourge once and for all.