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NSW Health review of COVID vaccine requirements could see two-dose rule dropped for healthcare workers

New South Wales healthcare workers may no longer need to meet COVID vaccination requirements as the government considers lifting their pandemic-era rulings.

Under the current occupational health and safety framework, all NSW Health staff must have at least two doses of a COVID vaccine unless they have a medical contraindication.

NSW Health Minister Ryan Park said this requirement was introduced in August 2021 to protect staff and their families, patients and the broader community from COVID.

“But [NSW Chief Health Officer] Dr [Kerry] Chant and I realized that our system needs to continue to function beyond the peak of COVID,” he said.

“That’s why we need to look as to whether we can start to dial some of these mandates back.”

a man standing behind a microphone speaking to the media

NSW Minister for Health Ryan Park said workers would still be encouraged to stay up-to-date with their vaccinations. (AAP: Jane Dempster )

Mr Park said he would only consider dropping to two-dose requirement after consulting with healthcare staff, who had a vaccination rate of 98 per cent.

“These mandates came in at the height of the pandemic during a very different environment to what we’re dealing with now.

“We believe it’s time to engage the workforce with this issue.”

NSW would not be the first state to remove vaccine requirements, with Queensland and Western Australia both no longer requiring healthcare workers to be vaccinated against COVID.

In Victoria, healthcare workers are still required to be fully vaccinated, while only certain healthcare workers in South Australia need to meet this threshold.

Mr Park said mandatory flu vaccines will remain in place for healthcare staff.

Review supported

A man wearing a shirt and jacket looks at the camera inside a GP clinic

AMA NSW president Michael Bonning said “as evidence continues to be evaluated” about COVID vaccines, requirements may become outdated.(Supplied: AMA)

President of the Australian Medical Association’s NSW branch Michael Bonning said the COVID-19 vaccination was “critical to keeping members of the public as well as healthcare workers safe during the pandemic”.

However, he said “as evidence continues to be evaluated”, the requirements may be outdated.

Dr Bonning said that the NSW AMA will still encourage “everyone to access vaccination where it is recommended that they do so”.

Associate Professor Holly Seale, an infectious disease specialist at the University of New South Wales, said she too supported the government’s review.

“With any vaccine recommendation, they are continually being reviewed with the latest evidence — whether that be looking at the disease trends, the numbers of cases, the severity — because we want to ensure that we are keeping up to date with what’s going on that would be considered best practice for all of our vaccines,” she said.

“And that includes healthcare worker vaccine requirements.”

Portrait of Dr Holly Seale who is a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales

Dr Holly Seale said people at higher risk of harm from COVID needed to get their vaccinations up to date.(Supplied: UNSW)

Resources should be used appropriately

Dr Seale said a shake-up of the vaccine requirements could help boost other areas of the state’s health sector.

“It takes a lot of effort to roll out a vaccine program within our healthcare systems. And so it’s important that we are using those resources appropriately.”

She said new evidence meant there could be a shift away from healthcare workers and continuing to focus on those most at risk of severe outcomes, including older Australians, the immunocompromised, and those with a chronic health condition.

She said there was a need to get people at higher risk of serious harm from COVID “up to date with their vaccines”.

“And at the moment, we’ve got some work to do around that.”

Nurse holding a syringe and vial

Dr Griffin said it was important to remember the pandemic is not over.(ABC News: Greg Nelson)

According to government data, around 3.3 million Australians over 65 years of age had their last vaccination more than six months ago.

By comparison, around 1.21 million Australians over 65 years old had received a vaccine in the last six months, as recommended by the Federal health department.

Dr Seale added vaccines would always be recommended, particularly for healthcare workers.

“That’s why we are always reviewing our vaccine programs, because they are resource intensive,” she said.

Older Australians have a big say in who forms the next government after May.

According to government data, around a third of Australians over 65 have kept up with the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization recommendation to have a COVID vaccine in the last six months. (Supplied: photoxpress.com: Julian May)

She said everyone was at risk of potentially developing “severe outcomes” from COVID, but that these risks were currently considered to be low “for the bulk of the population considered healthy”.

“We know with different variants, things can change, but based on the evidence at the moment, that is what NSW Health is judging this decision around.”

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