After months of hoping and waiting, a vaccine for COVID-19 is about to arrive in Australia. By the end of February – just a couple of weeks from now – a handful of Australians are expected to have received their first Pfizer jab.
The logistical challenges of vaccinating millions is not the only problem the Australian Government will face in coming months. Law makers and employers must also decide whether the COVID vaccine will be mandatory.
Can the government make vaccines mandatory?
The Federal Government does have legal grounds to make vaccines mandatory for all Australians, provided it is proven safe and effective. Australians would have little room to protest such a mandate under the Federal Biosecurity Act, which provides penalties for breaching Orders.
While Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, claimed the vaccine would be “as mandatory as you can possibly make it” in August, he later rescinded his comment and claimed it would be “encouraged.”
Vaccination could become a precondition for receiving government-funded services such as aged care, education and even border protection conditions. Like the “no job, no play” policy introduced in NSW in 2017, parents who do not vaccinate their children may be unable to enrol for childcare, or access family tax benefit payments and subsidies. Details of such a policy remain unconfirmed.
Whether Australians will be required to get the COVID vaccine as a prerequisite to travel will be determined imminently.
Can employers make vaccines mandatory?
Contracts of employment require employees to obey the lawful and reasonable directions of their employer. However, in such an unprecedented time, what is deemed “lawful and reasonable” is increasingly ambiguous. It can also vary between workplaces.
For example, it would probably be considered lawful and reasonable to require a childcare or aged care worker to get vaccinated. Some jurisdictions may even pass legislation to require employees in health and care sectors to be vaccinated with the COVID jab.