Five out of six paramedics in the New South Wales Riverina town of Finley are still unvaccinated, despite a looming deadline for all health workers in the state to get vaccinated by September 30.
- NSW Health figures show 7 per cent of healthcare workers remain unvaccinated
- The state’s Deputy Chief Health Officer, Dr Marianne Gale, says there are “real concerns” around vaccine refusal in some regions
- Aged care worker Charmaine Rakanace was hesitant about the vaccine before she contracted COVID-19
In the town of Tumut, paramedic John Larter has been vocal about refusing the jab.
“I’m quite prepared to take the risk that if I get COVID, that I will respond to it and have natural immunity,” he told ABC’s 7.30.
The Paramedicine Council of NSW recently suspended Mr Larter — who is also deputy mayor of Snowy Valleys Council — over complaints he spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation online.
Mr Larter denies the allegations.
Unvaccinated paramedics are only a fraction of the vaccination headache facing public health services across the state.
NSW Health figures show 7 per cent of all clinical healthcare workers remain unvaccinated, which is about 7,350 staff.
Two staff members at Deniliquin Hospital said that 10 nurses had not had the jab and raised concerns that the maternity ward could shut down.
NSW Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Marianne Gale acknowledged there were “real concerns” around vaccine refusal in some regional areas, but that any staff shortages would be resolved.
“Those pockets of people who may not be vaccinated, we are working through those issues,” she said.
“We will make sure that services and care for patients is not disrupted.
“The main message for the community is that, ‘If you need health care, whether for COVID or for any other medical condition, our system is there to provide care for you’.”
In a written statement, the Murrumbidgee Local Health District said maternity services would continue, with minimal impact, and work was underway to employ more staff.
Industrial relations lawyer knocks Supreme Court challenge
Mr Larter is one of a number of health workers who are challenging mandatory vaccinations in the NSW Supreme Court.
“I’m hoping we’ll win, then we’ll stop this mandatory compulsion of all workers to be vaccinated,” Mr Larter said.
However, Dr Gale said mandatory vaccinations were about reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission in healthcare settings.
“The move towards mandatory vaccination is really about making sure that our health system is as strong as it can be, that we reduce any risk of transmission in our facilities,” she said.
Dr Gale said she hoped any unvaccinated healthcare workers would reconsider their choice.
“I know that all our staff care deeply for patients and it’s why many healthcare workers are drawn to this profession,” she said.
“For those employees who have not yet been vaccinated, I’d encourage them to reflect deeply on that calling.”
Mr Larter’s case will be heard in the Supreme Court on November 4.
Employment and industrial law specialist Hayden Stephens said some of the cases before the courts about mandatory vaccination — brought by police officers, construction workers and teachers — are unlikely to succeed.
“These are very difficult cases, in my opinion, not least because they seek to challenge these matters on constitutional grounds,” he said. “I would put [those cases] as poor prospects for success.”
Aged care mandate passes, with staff losses
The federal government’s mandatory vaccination deadline for aged care passed on September 17.
That industry already has an annual staffing shortfall of 17,000 workers and has seen further losses over the requirement.
Aged care provider Whiddon operates 21 homes across New South Wales and Queensland.
Out of its 3,000 employees, 12 staff have refused to have the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I’m disappointed to see people leave,” Whiddon CEO Chris Mamarelis said. “However, it’s a personal choice.”
Nurse Kearra Lord works at Whiddon’s aged care home at Kyogle, in northern New South Wales, where four staff have left.
“Losing four team members does definitely have a knock-on effect,” she said.
“Those team members were very good at what they did and we do miss them.
“The flow-on effect for us is we now have to recruit … it is very difficult to recruit at the moment in aged care.”
Ms Lord said she hoped to protect residents in her care from COVID-19.
“At the end of the day, we chose a career that we care for people,” she said.
“If I can take an injection, a COVID vaccination that ensures that I absolutely do my best to keep my clients safe and my community safe, I will do that any day.”
Uniting Aged Care worker Charmaine Rakanace was initially hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I just had a personal fear of an untried vaccine,” she said. “What would happen to me if, you know, I was one of those statistics that perhaps it didn’t work so well on?”
Ms Rackanace’s attitude changed last month when she caught COVID-19.
“It really hit me like a freight train,” she said. “It was horrible and each day it got worse.”
During the worst of her symptoms, Ms Rakanace vowed to later get the jab and to encourage others to do so.
“I certainly wouldn’t want to wish COVID on anybody,” she said.
“My final plea is to get vaccinated.”
Uniting has lost 41 staff over vaccine refusals out of a workforce of 5,000 employees.
One Uniting employee is part of the Supreme Court challenge against vaccine mandates.
Her case will be heard in the NSW Supreme Court on September 30.
Anti-vax groups attempt to appeal to masses, says cyber analyst
Earlier this year, digital advocacy body Reset Australia found a 280 per cent increase in anti-vax group membership on Facebook.
Cyber analyst Ariel Bogle — who works at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Cyber Centre — said such groups capitalised on healthcare workers to bolster their message.
“Healthcare workers really occupy a position of trust and credibility in our society,” Ms Bogle said.
“Even a vocal minority of those [healthcare] voices is extremely useful to the anti-vaccine movement.
“It helps create the perception that there is a debate among healthcare workers — between doctors, nurses — about the safety of vaccines when, in fact, there is no such real debate.”
Ms Bogle said anti-vaccine groups borrowed language of progressive movements, such as phrases like “My body, my choice”, to appeal to the masses.
“These are phrases that are hard to argue with,” she said. “There’s not much argument with things like bodily autonomy, being able to make choices about yourself and your health.
“But [anti-vaccine groups] weaponised these phrases, because they are so familiar and appealing to us.”