The government’s COVID-19 vaccine indemnity scheme has been welcomed by business groups as something that will provide protection to SMEs and their employees, and will allow them to play a bigger role in the vaccine rollout.
The federal government unveiled its so-called ‘no-fault COVID-19 Vaccine Claim Scheme’ on Saturday, with a statement from the Australian Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt promising fast access to compensation for Aussies who have an adverse reaction to a TGA-approved COVID-19 vaccine.
For small businesses facilitating vaccines in the workplace, that removes some of the liability if an employee suffers an injury due to the jab.
The news follows calls from the small business community for government protections when it comes to vaccines. It also comes a matter of weeks after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would not provide indemnity for businesses, leaving the decision as to whether or not to mandate vaccines up to them.
“Side effects, or adverse events, from COVID-19 vaccinations can occur, but most are mild and last no longer than a couple of days. Serious and life-threatening side effects are very rare, but it is important that we provide a safety net to support those affected,” Minister Hunt said in the statement.
“It also ensure[s] that health professionals administering vaccines will be able to continue with their crucial role in the vaccine roll out with assurance that the claims scheme will offer them protection.”
While the scheme doesn’t appear to be directly designed to support businesses, it has been broadly welcomed by business groups.
A statement from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said this is the outcome it has been working to secure for the business sector.
Workplace vaccinations will play an increasingly important role in the vaccine rollout, chief executive Andrew McKellar said. And, while businesses are ready and willing to play their part, they “raised ongoing concerns about indemnity arrangements to cover administration of COVID-19 vaccines”, he said.
“Turning workplaces into vaccinations hubs will support reaching reopening thresholds, as well as assisting with the booster shot program in 2022,” McKellar added.
“The 80% vaccination threshold agreed to by National Cabinet is an ambitious target. Businesses need all the available options to encourage people to get vaccinated.”
Australian Retailers Association chief Paul Zahra said employers have been “looking to the federal government for leadership and guidance” on vaccines in the workplace, given the legal risks associated.
“This will now allow businesses to get on with finalising their workplace vaccination programs which will further improve take-up rates.”
With thousands of retailers in New South Wales and Victoria currently closed due to COVID-19 lockdowns, the industry is “strong and united” in its support of boosting the vaccination rate and hitting the 70% and 80% thresholds that will allow for more freedoms.
“Businesses can now play their part,” he added.
Finally, in a statement, Business Council of Australia chief Jennifer Westacott thanked Minister Hunt for “listening and acting on the concerns of the medical, healthcare, business and insurances sectors”.
The scheme will likely give employers more confidence to implement and manage workplace vaccinations, by removing legal uncertainty, while also ensuring some protection for employees, she added.
“Business is determined to help protect the health of the community, and one of the important roles we are playing is providing workplace vaccination programs to keep our teams safe,” Westacott said.
“The job of business is to help accelerate vaccine take up and assist with the government’s rollout. Today’s announcement will give thousands of businesses the confidence to get on with this task.”
What do we know?
So far, there’s not a whole lot of detail on the scheme. But, here’s what we know so far:
When will the scheme come into effect?
As of September 6, 2021, anyone who suffers injury or loss of income due to their COVID-19 vaccine will be able to register their intent to claim.
The scheme will be backdated to February 2021, meaning anyone who has already suffered injury or loss of earnings will also be eligible to make a claim.
How does it work?
It looks like the onus is on employees to make a compensation claim via a dedicated website. You can access the website here, but there’s not much information on it yet.
The scheme will be administered by Services Australia and, according to the statement, will be designed as a ‘simple and quick administrative process’.
The TGA is expected to provide guidance on what is recognised as an adverse reaction to the vaccine in due course.
How much can people claim?
The statement says the scheme will cover the cost of injuries above $5,000, suggesting smaller losses will not be covered.
Claimants must be able to prove that costs were due to an adverse reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Claims will be assessed by independent experts, and the level of compensation available will be decided on a case-by-case basis, based on their recommendations.
Does this mean my business can make vaccinations mandatory for staff?
Not necessarily. It does remove the question of liability if an employee suffers adverse effects, but making vaccines mandatory must still be lawful and reasonable as per Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) guidelines.
You can read more about the FWO’s four-tiered system for mandatory vaccines here.