Australia’s vaccine rollout set to begin in March as PM urges cautious approach

The vaccine may be on its way – but it’s not quite ‘business as usual’ just yet

Australia’s vaccine rollout set to begin in March as PM urges cautious approach

Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is set to begin in March, prime minister Scott Morrison has confirmed.

The Coalition leader said he would not rush the process as clusters continue to grow in both New South Wales and Victoria.

Giving a press conference with chief medical officer Paul Kelly, the PM said Australia is in a good position compared to countries like the US and the UK where vaccinations have already begun.

"Public health is our number one priority on the vaccine,” he said. "There will be no shortcuts. The standards must be maintained and upheld."

“For the vaccine to be successful, Australians have to have confidence in it and I believe they will have confidence in it.”

Morrison said other countries where the situation is worse had been given emergency authorisations to begin vaccinations, but Australia’s infection rate did not warrant such a quick rollout.

"We're being careful to ensure that we dot all the Is and we cross all the Ts to ensure this vaccine is safe and able to be distributed across the Australian population,” he said.

Read more: Facebook: COVID-19 vaccine not mandatory for staff

Kelly confirmed there are now three pharmaceutical companies which have published phase three vaccine results and were being rolled out, including Moderna, AstraZeneca and BioNTech.

In Australia, the AstraZeneca vaccine is currently being produced in Melbourne for vaccinations scheduled to begin in March.

Like Morrison, Kelly stressed that the rollout underway across Europe, the UK and the US was very different to the situation facing Australia.

“We need to go by the regulators. They have always been cautious, and it’s kept us in good stead,” he said.

The recent Northern Beaches outbreak in NSW caused the hard border to be reinstated between NSW and the rest of Australia.

Read more: COVID-19: Pfizer staff work all night to deliver vaccine

It was a reminder to businesses that the pandemic is far from over.

NSW had removed the statewide work from home order shortly before the Christmas break but the outbreak shows return to work strategies must remain cautious.

Face masks are now mandatory in indoor settings and public transport across NSW, and anyone ignoring the health order faces a $200 fine.

NSW has recorded zero local transmissions reporting period, but two cases were reported after the deadline.

In Victoria, there have been three new local cases in the last 24 hours from 32,468 tests.

For HR leaders looking ahead to 2021, the vaccine roll out comes with it’s own unique set of issues – top of the list being ‘can employers insist that employees take their medicine?’

Speaking to HRD, Michael Michalandos, Asia Pacific head of employment law at Baker McKenzie, revealed it’s not quite that simple.

He explained that cases should be assessed on an individual basis, adding that an insistence to take the vaccine could depend on what sector the employee works in.

“If the employee is working in aged care then it may be more reasonable to have that expectation,” he told HRD.

“There may also be a government requirement for employees working in sectors with patients to have the vaccine…Some employees may have genuine reasons for refusing to take the vaccine and it’s important that employers take into account what those concerns may be.”

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