Australians will be “scratching their heads” over the fact mandated vaccines for aged care workers won’t come into effect until September, Labor says.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday evening announced vaccines would be compulsory for aged care workers from September, while doctors will be able to give the AstraZeneca vaccine to willing patients under 60 without liability.
It came with Sydney in the grip of the highly contagious Delta variant, and as jurisdictions across Australia scrambled to impose measures to contain its spread.
Mr Morrison confirmed earlier this month the government was considering making vaccines mandatory for aged care workers, saying on Monday the “serious situation” gripping Australia had forced the government’s hand.
But Labor treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers accused the government of “playing catch-up” and claimed Australians would be bewildered by the delay.
“I think a lot of people who were watching the Prime Minister last night would have been scratching their head and wondering why a lot of this wasn’t happening already,” he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
“The reason why it hasn’t been happening … is because the Prime Minister’s first instinct is always to avoid responsibility rather than take responsibility.
“That’s why these lockdowns have Scott Morrison’s name stamped on them.”
But chief medical officer Paul Kelly insisted mandating vaccines across the sector came with a range of logistic hurdles and could not be done overnight.
He urged workers to come forward “as quickly as possible” rather than wait until mid-September.
“Mandating something like vaccination is not a decision to be taken lightly. You need to weigh up all of the issues that are involved to make sure that we have used other ways of getting the vaccine out,” he told the ABC on Tuesday.
National cabinet also agreed to insert a no-fault indemnity clause for GPs administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to willing patients under 60, despite medical advice.
Australians above 18 were already able to request the AstraZeneca vaccine, but GPs would now be able to administer it without liability for serious blood clotting arising from the jab.
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said Australia had to “roll with the changes in this virus” and described the measure as “another surety” for GPs.
“It’s a discussion for doctors to have with their own patients and to work through their own risk and benefit in relation to that,” he said.
Australian Medical Association President Omar Khorshid said the measure “removes another barrier” hampering the vaccine rollout.
“We know there is demand out there. There are people who say that they can take the risks and accept them … and can see the benefit of the vaccination,” he told Sunrise.