Australia’s coronavirus vaccine rollout set to begin next week: Here’s what SMEs need to know

COVID-19-vaccine

Source: Unsplash/Louis Reed.

Australia’s coronavirus vaccine rollout is set to begin next week, after 142,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine landed in Australia yesterday.

The medical regulator also approved the Oxford University-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday, making it the second vaccine that has been given a rubber stamp for use Down Under. This vaccine has been approved for people aged over 18 years.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australians will begin receiving the Pfizer vaccine from next Monday and 60,000 doses will be distributed across the country by the end of the month.

So what should small business owners be aware of as the first phase of the rollout begins? SmartCompany answers the common questions.

When will the vaccine be available for my industry?

It may be several months before most small businesses and their employees will have access to the vaccine.

The first workers in line to receive the vaccine are quarantine and border workers, frontline health care workers, and aged care and disability care staff.

The next phase will include workers in health care, as well as workers in meat processing and the public services of defence, police, fire and emergency services.

Elderly adults aged 70 to 79, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 55 and above, and younger adults with underlying medial conditions will also receive the jab.

The following phase, which mainly includes adults aged 50 to 69, will also include “other critical and high risk workers”, although no further details are given about the specific industries.

The final phases will include the general adult population and lastly teenagers 16 and under.

So far, the federal government has avoided setting a specific timeline for when these phases will begin and end, so it is safe to say it could be many months before young workers in the retail and hospitality industries can get the vaccine, for example.

Can I make it mandatory for my staff?

While the federal government has said the coronavirus vaccine will not be mandatory, some industries can require workers to get vaccinated.

Legal experts say employers have the right to introduce a vaccine policy in their business if there is a strong need for it to ensure workplace health and safety.

Industries that face higher risks of outbreaks are likely to encourage vaccines, such as hospitals, aged care facilities and organisations that involve working with children.

In other industries, the question is more ambiguous. It will depend on the circumstances employees work in, and balancing the employer’s duty of care to others with the employee’s reason for refusing the vaccine.

Who pays for the vaccine?

Business owners will not be responsible for paying for their own or their employees’ coronavirus vaccines.

The federal government has previously said COVID-19 vaccines will be free for all Australian citizens.

Vaccines will also be free for permanent residents and temporary visa-holders, as part of the Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Policy.

What do I do if my staff aren’t sure about it?

A small portion of the public is expected to be either unsure about or against getting the coronavirus vaccine.

Since the efficacy of the vaccine depends on a large part of the population getting vaccinated, the federal government has pledged $24 million to an advertising campaign to dispel any fears associated with the vaccine.

The campaign will be broken into three phases, starting with efforts to assure people that vaccines have been approved by a world-leading regulatory process before giving the public practical information about where and how to get inoculated.

Employers will also be able to direct their staff to Department of Health resources for information about the vaccine.

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