COVID-19 Vaccine Roll Out - United Workers Union

COVID-19 VACCINE ROLL OUT

VACCINE INFORMATION

Australia’s first COVID-19 vaccines – the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Oxford University-AstraZeneca – have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) who are responsible for checking the safety of drugs used in Australia.

The Pfizer vaccine was the first vaccine to be rolled out, and this started from 22 February 2021.

Phase 1A will receive this vaccine.

The AstraZeneca vaccine will be rolled out in Phase 1B.

The first doses of AstraZeneca were administered in South Australia on 5 March 2021.

United Workers Union will keep you up to date with the latest information.

On 4 February 2021, the Morrison Government revised who would receive the COVID-19 vaccine to include all people living in Australia. 

While eligibility for the vaccine previously excluded those on visitor visas, electronic travel authority, eVisitor and Transit visas, the Government confirmed it is now the case that all visa holders, refugees and asylum seekers will be eligible for the vaccine.

Phase 1a 

The Commonwealth government has confirmed the following groups will be in Priority Phase 1A:
Aged care and disability workers:
– nursing and personal care staff
– allied health professionals who routinely provide care
– kitchen, cleaning, laundry, garden and office
Aged care and disability facility residents;
Border and quarantine workers;
– staff at entry points to the country (such as sea ports and land borders)
– staff working in quarantine facilities, including those employed under Commonwealth, state or private agreements, and
– Commonwealth employees (including Defence personnel) who are identified as having the potential to encounter returning travellers as part of their work.
Frontline health care worker sub-groups:
– frontline staff in facilities or services such as hospital emergency departments, COVID-19 and respiratory wards, Intensive Care Units and High-dependency Units
– laboratory staff handling potentially infectious material
– ambulance and paramedics service
– GP respiratory clinics
– COVID-19 testing facilities

Number of doses: up to 1.4m

Phase 1b 

Elderly adults aged 80 years and over

Elderly adults aged 70-79 years

Other health care workers

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people > 55

Younger adults with an underlying medical condition, including those with a disability

Critical and high risk workers including defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing

Household contacts of quarantine and border workers

Number of doses: up to 14.8m

* There is ongoing discussions around where school staff and early childhood educators will sit but it will be before Phase 2b.

Phase 2a 

Adults aged 60-69 years

Adults aged 50-59 years

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 18-54

Other critical and high risk workers

Number of doses: up to 15.8m

Phase 2b 

Remaining adult population

Catch up any unvaccinated Australians from previous phases

Number of doses: up to 16m

Phase 3

< 16 if recommended*

Number of doses: up to 13.6m

 

UWU believes the phases will be happening relatively quickly. Click here for more information on the Australian Government’s COVID-19 vaccine national roll-out strategy.

No, it is not mandatory to get the vaccine at present. This may change in the future, according to health advice and we will keep members informed about this.

The Federal Government, after advice from health professionals, has chosen at this stage not to make the vaccine mandatory in priority industries such as aged care. However, the Federal Government is actively encouraging a high level of vaccinations, stating Australia is a “vaccination nation” with one of the highest levels of vaccinations in the world.

It has stated, however, that there may be circumstances where the Australian Government and other governments may introduce border entry or re-entry requirements that are conditional on proof of vaccination.

Some State/Territory Governments may choose to make the vaccine mandatory for some people, however in state briefings attended by UWU to date, there has been no indication that this will be the case.

UWU takes the view that employers should consult with their workers about any issues related to the vaccine. Any rules about the vaccine should be consistent with the spirit and the letter of the advice from the Federal Government’s health professionals.

At this stage, most employers are yet to deliberate on whether they will make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for their employees.

If your employer tells you that getting a vaccine is compulsory, or requires you to produce evidence you’ve had the vaccine, or gives preferential treatment to people who have had the vaccine, the best step to take is to contact your Union for advice.

Your union has always supported Australia’s vaccination program based on advice provided by Australian health professionals and we will continue to listen to the advice of health professionals as the experts through this process. A COVID-19 vaccine will help protect the lives of vulnerable Australians.

If a decision to make the vaccine mandatory requirement for employment, advice would come from The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and the Chief Medical Officer. Then a national cabinet decision put in place at state level.

UWU will be carefully reviewing any directives regarding mandatory vaccinations if and when this information is made publicly available, recognising that it is important to balance the health and safety of the community with an individual’s personal choice about immunisation.

Some members have questions and concerns about COVID-19 vaccines, because of a lack of information about the Australian vaccine approvals process. Your union believes you should have this information before any vaccine is rolled out.

UWU members need to be provided with as much accurate information as possible so you’re able to give informed consent, so your union has been actively engaging with the Federal Government and national and state Health Departments.

At an initial meeting with the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on 13 January 2021, UWU, along with the Australian Nurses and Midwifery Federation and other health unions identified many questions about the approval process, the efficacy of the vaccine, and of the roll out that we require answers to.

Since then, your union has had a detailed technical briefing with the Chief Medical Officer.

Members have enquired about whether individual employers are able to require their staff to take the vaccine.

UWU takes the view that employers should consult with their workers about any issues related to the vaccine. We are writing to all employers nationally to remind them that if they are considering forcing workers to have the vaccine, they need to consult with their workers through their union before any such decision is taken. With any rules about the vaccine to be consistent with the spirit and the letter of the advice from the Federal Government’s health professionals

The acting Chief Medical Officer, Michael Kidd, has said that the side-effects the vast majority of people are experiencing overseas with the Pfizer vaccine are the side-effects typical of other vaccines – usually some soreness around the site of injection and some tiredness. There have been reports about people getting significant allergic reactions, so there are cautions and precautions in place. People who are prone to such allergic reactions are advised against getting the vaccine.

More details about possible side effects are available at the Federal Department of Health’s FAQ’s page here.

Pregnant women have been advised against receiving the Pfizer vaccine by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. This is because the clinical trials the TGA based its approval on did not involve pregnant women, Australia is not experiencing high case numbers and there is no evidence pregnant women are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, which provides clinical advice for vaccines, is yet to release official guidelines for the vaccination of pregnant and breastfeeding women against COVID-19.

The TGA says the decision to vaccinate people who are very frail or at the end of their life will be made on a case-by case-basis, after a small number of deaths were observed in this population in Norway. They have, however, publicly stated that the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine linked to the Norwegian deaths poses no ‘specific’ risk to elderly patients.

If your employer terminates your employment (or threatens to terminate your employment) because you have indicated you will not get the COVID-19 vaccine, you should contact your union for assistance immediately, as strict time limits for legal options can apply. At this stage, the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory. However, employees do have a responsibility to follow lawful and reasonable directions given by their employer, which may include getting the COVID-19 vaccine should it become mandatory.

What is considered reasonable will depend on your individual circumstances and the nature of your work. If you are unable to receive the COVID-19 vaccine due to medical reasons your employer has an obligation to discuss possible alternative duties and working arrangements that you may be able to perform while still ensuring the safety of yourself and others.

This may include redeployment to another area or providing additional personal protective equipment for infection prevention and control. It may be illegal for your employer to summarily terminate your employment for refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine without first discussing the matter with you and exploring alternative options. If you are directed by your employer to receive the vaccine and are unable to get it or you have concerns about doing so, you should raise these with your employer and contact the union for further assistance.

At this stage, the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory. However, should this change in the future and you cannot get the COVID-19 vaccine because of genuine medical reasons you should advise your employer of this.

Employers are required to undertake a risk assessment for their staff regarding COVID-19 vulnerabilities and address the risks. This may include making alternative work available or proposing safer work arrangements, such as undertaking training or working from home.

Therefore, if you are unable to have the COVID-19 vaccine due to medical reasons (ie: you are allergic), your employer will need to develop and implement strategies so far as reasonably practicable for you to continue to work, while enhancing the safety of you and the people you work with.

This may include providing you with additional personal protective equipment for infection prevention and control or deploying you to another area that poses a lower risk of infection. In looking for alternative work, the employer does not have to create a special position for each person.

If you need further assistance, contact your union.

As of Monday 22 March 2021, Phase 1b has now commenced.

The COVID-19 vaccine eligibility checker can be used by members to find out when they will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, book an appointment (if eligible), or register their interest: https://covid-vaccine.healthdirect.gov.au/eligibility Note: Some GPs who will be administering the vaccine have reported that they have not yet received shipment of the vaccine and will not be taking appointments until they do.

A COVID-19 vaccine is expected to start rolling out to priority groups (which includes frontline health care workers, as stated above) from late February 2021, after the successful approval of the Pfizer vaccine by the TGA.

Things are still being finalised but at this stage it seems the vaccines will be available through GP clinics, dedicated vaccination clinics, workplace vaccinations, in-reach vaccination teams, and more.

In the first instance front-line health workers will be offered the Pfizer vaccination through 30-to-50 hubs established at major hospitals nationally.  For example UWU understands that six major vaccination hubs will be established in large hospitals across Queensland to assist with demand.

In line with the rollout plan, aged care staff and residents will be offered the vaccination on-site at residential aged care facilities, with doses distributed from the hubs. For disabilities it will also be on-site and unions are engaged with the government around the details. Doses of the vaccine will initially be allocated to States and Territories based on the number of people in the above priority groups. For up to date information, please check the Department of Health website.

Registered nurses working in vaccination areas will primarily be responsible for administering the COVID-19 vaccine. However, GPs and ultimately pharmacists are being asked to assist with administering the vaccine, provided their workplace is appropriately set up to store and administer it.

To be approved for use in Australia, any vaccine must pass the TGA’s rigorous assessment and approval process. This includes assessment of its safety, quality and effectiveness. COVID-19 vaccines need to pass all test phases required by the TGA, like any other vaccine. This includes pre-clinical and clinical trials, which involves strict trials in thousands of people across multiple countries. Before any vaccine can be approved for use, the clinical trials must provide scientific evidence that shows the benefits of a vaccine greatly outweigh any risks.

The TGA’s approval means the vaccine can now be legally supplied in Australia. As part of the approval, the TGA said it would continue to actively monitor the safety of the Pfizer vaccine in Australia and overseas and will not hesitate to take action if safety concerns are identified. As an added safety check, the TGA said its laboratories would assess each batch of vaccines before the vaccine can be supplied in Australia.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has not been suspended in Australia but as a precautionary measure, on 25th March 2021, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommended that vaccination with any COVID-19 vaccine should be deferred for people who have a history of the following rare conditions: people with a confirmed medical history of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST); and/or people with a confirmed medical history of heparin induced thrombocytopenia (HIT). HIT is an immune-mediated complication of treatment with heparin that affects platelet function. A HIT-like mechanism is being investigated as a potential, but unconfirmed, pathway to CVST post COVID-19 vaccination. This deferment is until further information from ongoing investigations in Europe is available and is only a precautionary measure.

Yes. People over 50 will still be encouraged to take AZ as the benefits outweigh the risks – the likelihood of clotting occurring is around 0.00001%. Public health advice is that people under 50 with no medical risk factors should receive an alternative, like Pfizer, instead. The Government has stated it will revise the roll out to accommodate for this advice. What this will look like is, at present, unclear. More updates to follow.

The development and roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines overseas have indeed taken less time than would normally be associated with a new vaccine.

However, there are several reasons for this:

  • Early genomic sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 and global information sharing allowed scientists a “head start” on developing potential vaccines, instead of requiring lengthy processes to individually de-code the virus.
  • Scientists had the benefit of being familiar with SARS-CoV-1 and could therefore use the information learned from SARS-CoV-1 to inform their vaccine development for SARS-CoV-2. For the Pfizer vaccine, manufacturing of the vaccine occurred simultaneously with testing and clinical trials, due to the urgency of the pandemic. This meant that when testing and review was completed and approved, there were already large stocks of the vaccine available to be distributed. Had the prospective vaccine failed clinical trials, all vials of the prospective vaccine would have been destroyed.
  • The surge in funding has led to some testing processes being run in parallel. Where different phases in a trial are typically conducted sequentially, many COVID-19 vaccine studies have combined phase I and II trials and a few have combined phase II and III trials to compress time frames. This has not compromised scientific rigour as safety, immunogenicity and efficacy outcomes are strictly assessed and safety monitoring will continue even after registration with the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
  • There have been unprecedented amounts of public funding poured into the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccines are usually funded in “blocks” according to clinical trial stages, which delays the development process. For the COVID-19 vaccine, the funding received was so substantial that scientists were able to work continuously.
  • The Australian Government Therapeutic Goods Administration’s review process has been altered slightly to allow for the administrative processes to be streamlined for the COVID-19 vaccine. Only the administrative processes have been affected. In other words, the time required for review of clinical trials has not been affected.

As the Pfizer vaccine requires cold storage conditions, its dispensation will be largely restricted to 30 – 50 hospital hubs in urban and rural Australia.

Priority groups in Phase 1A will be able to access their doses at one of these hubs. Initially 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine were purchased by the Australian Government, but this was increased by a further 10 million in early February.

In the week, 80,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be distributed through hospital hubs and to aged care and disability facilities. The federal government will use 30,000 for aged care homes, and 50,000 will be split between the states and territories for quarantine workers and frontline health staff. Aged care staff are expected to be offered vaccination within the first six weeks of the roll out.

Vaccination teams will go out from distribution hubs to aged care and disability care facilities. These teams will be managed by the Australian Government.

So far, we understand that there will be nine vaccination hubs in Victoria (3 based in metropolitan Melbourne and six in regional areas). Six vaccination hubs in major hospitals have also been planned for Queensland. Major hospitals are expected to be vaccine hubs across Australia. An interactive map of initial vaccine hubs for Week 1 of the roll out can be found here.

In addition to the around 1000 GPs and 1000 Commonwealth respiratory clinics already announced, an additional 4,000 GPs should be on board to administer phase 1b of the vaccine by the end of April. As the rollout moves into phase two, additional general practices and selected community pharmacists will also deliver the vaccine.

The Australian Government has also secured 53.8 million Astra Zeneca vaccine doses, which will be produced within Australia by CSL. The Astra Zeneca vaccine will be much easier to distribute and it is expected that most Australians choosing to be vaccinated will receive this vaccine at their local GP or pharmacy. 

Due to supply constraints and the significant timeframe (12 weeks) needed between AstraZeneca doses, the Morrison Government has walked away from its promise that Australians would be “fully vaccinated” by October. Instead, the Government and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) anticipate this will occur by the end of the year.

Domestic production of the AstraZeneca vaccine, by CSL, is expected to be in full swing by late March – with 1 million doses produced per week. This will significantly ramp up the vaccination roll out in Australia.

Vaccine certificates are expected to be issued to all Australians within a few days of vaccination. It is anticipated that most people will be able to access their proof of vaccination via MyGov or the Express Plus Medicare mobile app. It is currently unclear how people who may not have access to these services will be able to demonstrate that they have been vaccinated.

Media reports that preliminary evidence suggests the more transmissible and dangerous variants of coronavirus from the UK and South Africa will be covered by the Pfizer vaccine, and the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines both generate much higher levels of immunity than infection, leading scientists to believe they will cover a number of variants.

However, these will not be the last variants of the virus and updates to the vaccines may need to be made.

You can find more information about COVID-19 vaccines on the Australian government website.

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