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Is it time for a National Vaccine Compensation Scheme?

In the wake of new AstraZeneca restrictions to those aged over 60, it may be time to consider a National Vaccine Compensation Scheme in Australia, writes Joshua Dale.

user iconJoshua Dale 23 June 2021 SME Law
Joshua Dale
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Last week’s announcement of new health advice recommending AstraZeneca as the preferred vaccine for those aged 60 years or over, reignited debate about the vaccine roll-out in Australia.

The new health advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) sparked vaccine cancellations and renewed public concern about potential side effects of including blood clotting conditions that have resulted in life-threatening situations and even death.

Many aged 50 and over who had already received their first AstraZeneca dose before the updated health advice expressed concerns about receiving the second dose in the context of the changed health advice despite assurances from government medical authorities that it was safe to do so.

 
 

Vaccine confidence is now a serious issue for the Australian government and various states and territories across Australia.

Whilst the statistical analysis may provide some level of comfort to medical practitioners, the current messaging certainly seems to be that there are inherent risks associated with being vaccinated against COVID-19 with the new recommendation regarding AstraZeneca heightening existing concerns. 

Now more than ever people who are considering the vaccine need to be assured not only as to the safety of any vaccine and their ongoing good health but also their financial security in circumstances where the worst were to happen and they were unfit for work for a period of time as a result of COVID-19 vaccine.

Just as workers are now protected should they develop negative health impacts as a result of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace, equally they should be protected from any potential impact of the various vaccines.

In all of the circumstances it seems a prudent measure for either the federal or state and territory governments, or in conjunction with each other, to establish some type of temporary compensation scheme to ensure that there is financial protection to those undergoing and/or choosing to have the vaccine over the coming year and/or years if boosters and updated vaccination are required to protect against new and emerging variants of COVID-19. 

This added layer of protection would no doubt give some level of comfort to those who may be sitting on the fence or even have decided in the short-term not to receive the vaccine. A recent survey found only 40 per cent of Australians aged 50-69 said that they were willing to have either vaccine available.

In the absence of any such scheme it is no doubt inevitable that employers will continue to be punished economically as a result of the pandemic and would be most worthy of ongoing government support now that various JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes have ended. 

This could easily be addressed by a permanent and/or even a temporary amendment to the various Workers Compensation Acts in the states and territories across Australia. In particular in NSW, which is already a “no fault” scheme one would only need to prove an incapacity to work certified by a doctor’s certificate associated with a COVID-19 vaccine.

This added level of support for employers, protection for workers and reassurance for the general public would be a very welcome response.

Joshua Dale is a partner at Carroll & O'Dea Lawyers.