opinion

'Why wasn't the Sydney frontline worker vaccinated?' When the 'mandatory' debate gets complicated.

We're back on the COVID merry-go-round for another ride of exposure lists, border closures and daily case numbers. 

Just as Victoria emerges from an outbreak, it's NSW's turn for a scare. That's just the world we live in now, a constant yo yo of virus monotony. 

Four cases of community transmission have been confirmed, all tracing back to a man in his 60s who has the highly contagious Delta strain. The list of exposure sites is getting longer by the hour, detailing locations right across Sydney's north and east.

Read: Four cases and an unvaccinated frontline worker: What we know about Sydney's new COVID cases.

But there's one detail of this particular COVID leak that's raising eyebrows: Why was patient zero, a driver who was responsible for transporting international aircrew from the airport to hotel quarantine, unvaccinated?

He was working in a high-risk job, and his age group has been eligible for months now. But here in Australia, vaccination is voluntary - even for many of those working on the COVID frontline.

Side note: How to talk to anti-vaxxers. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia

The Western Australia government is the only state to make it mandatory for all hotel quarantine workers to be vaccinated, but other states like NSW and Victoria claim they have been able to ensure all hotel workers have been jabbed without a workplace direction.

But that didn't include drivers like this new potential super spreader, it seems. 

There's a similar mishmash of rules when it comes to healthcare workers and aged care staff - every location has a different approach, and some are more strict than others. 

On the Australian government website, there is a page purely to debunk the idea of mandatory jabs. 

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After stressing the voluntary status of all vaccinations in Australia, it adds a footnote that reads: "There may be circumstances in the future, however where there may be border entry or re-entry requirements that are conditional on proof of vaccination."

But it begs the question, if our leaders are considering proof of vaccination for our borders, why haven't they already rolled out a more blanket proof of vaccination order for every workplace that remotely touches the frontline?

It's a hard one. We live in a democracy, and Australians should be given the freedom to choose what they put into their bodies. But we are also still living through a global pandemic. 

The Commonwealth's No Jab No Pay policy makes eligibility for certain social security payments dependent on vaccination. And even our children have to prove they have up-to-date vaccinations before they can be enrolled in childcare or preschool. But the Commonwealth is yet to introduce wide-ranging rules for the COVID-19 jab, although they have noted they are warming to the idea of making it mandatory for aged care staff after the leaks that occurred within that system in Melbourne a few weeks ago.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health initiatives have continued to raise questions regarding the appropriate balance between community interests and individual rights.

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As Holly Seale, Deputy Chair of the Collaboration on Social Science and Immunisation wrote for The Conversation earlier this month, "are we at that tipping point of needing to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine?"

She suggests incentives, reimbursements, assistance with logistical issues and decision aids and guides should all be explored before the vaccine is deemed mandatory. 

As far as Sydney GP Dr Brad McKay is concerned, COVID-19 needs to be treated like any other occupational health and safety issue.

"Workers need to protect themselves and their workplace needs to ensure they have adequate protection - this includes vaccines. It's irresponsible for unvaccinated people to work in an environment with a high chance of exposure to a potentially lethal virus," he told Mamamia.

We live in a world that requires medical and nursing students to be vaccinated before they can attend clinical placements.

You have to get a yellow fever vaccination before you hop on a plane to Brazil, if you want to be let back in. 

Children need to be vaccinated to attend school. 

How long do we wait, and how many outbreaks, lockdowns and businesses do we destroy before we determine that we need stricter rules to enforce COVID-19 vaccination? 

As we head into another week of scouring exposure lists, something's got to give. 

Feature image: Getty/Mamamia.