Vaccinations...... a topic that has the ability to cause fights, fracture relationships and cause BIG problems in the workplace if not approached correctly.
Many employers offered workplace vaccination programs for years before COVID crossed our shoreline. The vaccination issue has simply become more topical due to the current national and global interest in the different COVID vaccines and their respective rollouts.
The facts are simple:
Immunisation is a generally safe and effective way to protect against harmful diseases and also to prevent the spread of said diseases through the community
Immunisation rates within the Australian population are amongst the highest in the world
Childhood immunisation surveillance shows that the rates are above 90% for children aged up to 5 years old, with approximately 80% of teenagers in Australia are fully vaccinated. There is not a lot of data for adults, but the 2009 Adult Vaccination Survey stated that 75% of Australians aged over 65 were vaccinated for influenza.
There is a proportion of the population who do not believe in/agree with Australia's immunisation schedule, and thus choose to refrain from receiving them.
Australia does not have a mandatory vaccination system except in certain situations, for example - mandatory influenza vaccinations for certain healthcare workers.
So what is an employer to do?
With respect to annual influenza vaccination, the results are clear. By offering a workplace sponsored influenza vaccination campaign on a completely voluntary basis (remembering that for certain roles it can be a requirement), you are almost guaranteed to reduce the severity and incidence of influenza within your workplace, which has many obvious productivity benefits - not to mention the clear community benefits for the economy and health of Australians. There are many organisations that provide this service either by holding onsite clinics, or providing staff with vouchers to use at pharmacies and other clinics. Employees don't have to participate of course, but the option is available. Any discontent can easily be managed by a well engrained culture of respect, and appropriate HR policies and processes.
What about COVID-19?
At the time of writing, Queensland is the only state to have passed mandatory vaccination laws for certain workers including health service employees, ambulance service employees and hospital and health service contractors. The vaccines are being rolled out by certain healthcare providers in a pre-determined order, and so far there is no indication of workplace programs being implemented. However, it is still important to make sure that your employees are aware of the current rollout, and are provided opportunities to receive their vaccinations if eligible. Create a small internal communications plan around influenza vaccinations and COVID-19 vaccinations, provide your staff with opportunities to participate in either workplace or government programs, and be mindful that there may be side effects afterwards that may require some minor absences.
You can respect your employees. You can uphold their right to bodily autonomy and choice with respect to healthcare. And you can also promote vaccination as a widely accepted, positive, safe and effective way to protect the health, and financial wellbeing of your employees and entire populations.