COVID-19 Vaccines

March 3, 2021

Victoria's vaccine program

Some facts:

  1. The Commonwealth government's role:
    1. to purchase, approval (through the TGA) and distribution/allocation of vaccines
    2. to prioritise workers and members of the public into 'categories' setting out the order they will receive the vaccinations
    3. to vaccinate private residential aged and disability staff and residents
    4. partner with jurisdictions which will deliver the majority of vaccinations
    5. the vaccine will be free to everyone in Australia
  2. The Victorian government's role:
    1. to set up the nine 'hubs' which have already begun to vaccinate with the Pfizer vaccine
    2. facilitate the expansion and localisation of the rollout 

Which COVID-19 vaccines will be used in Australia?

So far, two vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine, have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for use in Australia in the Federal Government’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

The Pfizer vaccine will be first given to priority groups at high risk of COVID-19 from 22 February. Vaccinations using AstraZeneca are expected to begin in mid-March.

Both vaccines need to be taken in two doses. The doses need to be spaced out – for Pfizer by at least 21 days, and for AstraZeneca by at least 4 weeks (though being spaced by longer, for example around 12 weeks, seems to be preferred for the AstraZeneca vaccine).

Vaccination is free for everyone, and available to everyone.

More information about Australia’s rollout is available on the Federal Government’s COVID website.

When will COVID-19 vaccines be made available in Victoria?

A staged rollout of the vaccine in Australia commenced on 22 February, 2021 for high risk, frontline workers including hospital staff (working in COVID-19 and suspected COVID-19 wards, emergency departments and Intensive Care Units and aged care wards), staff in General Practitioner (GP) clinics and COVID-19 testing facilities, ambulance staff and paramedics, and aged care and disability staff and residents.

As part of the rollout, the Victorian Government is delivering doses of the Pfizer vaccine to hotel quarantine and health hotel workers, airport and port workers, high-risk frontline health staff and public sector residential aged care staff and residents. It is expected that the AstraZeneca vaccine will be available from mid-March. 

The Federal Government is responsible for providing the vaccine to residents and workers in private sector aged care and disability care. The Federal Government is also responsible for purchasing the vaccine, ensuring it is safe, distribution and deciding on the priority populations.

By March 3, over 6,600 Victorians had received the first vaccine. 

Who is involved in the healthcare worker priority groups?

The first group of priority healthcare workers (Phase 1a) has been identified by the Federal Government and includes:

  • Quarantine and border workers
  • Hospital staff (both clinical and non-clinical) who work in emergency departments, intensive care units, COVID and suspected COVID wards
  • Ambulance staff and paramedics
  • Staff in GP respiratory clinics and COVID-19 testing facilities
  • Staff working in COVID-19 vaccination clinics
  • Aged care and disability care staff
  • Aged care and disability care residents.

If you're interested in finding out where you might 'fit' and when you will become eligible for the vaccine, go to the tool developed by the Commonwealth Government: Vaccine Eligibility Tester

COVID-19 Vaccines - Live Show

If you missed the OHS Unit's Live Show on February 23, you can still take a look at what was a very informative and even fun event (yes, fun!). The show featured two very special guests:

  1. Professor Ben Cowie: infectious diseases physician and epidemiologist, holding appointments with the Victorian Infectious Diseases Service, Royal Melbourne Hospital, and the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. In addition, Ben is a medical epidemiologist with Communicable Disease Epidemiology and Surveillance, Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, and is a Professorial Fellow in the Department of Medicine at the University of Melbourne.
  2. Mr Leigh Hubbard: Director, Engagement (Industry Settings); COVID-19 Community Engagement & Testing Command,  Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Leigh was also Secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council from 1995 - 2005.

One of the questions asked was whether employers would have the right to make vaccinations mandatory. both the Commonwealth nor the State governments have made it clear that the vaccination is voluntary. On Friday last week, Safe Work Australia updated its vaccination advice to warn that the vast majority of employers will not have a WHS right or obligation to require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, while most workers will not be entitled to refuse to work because a colleague has not been inoculated.  

Go to the We Are Union - OHS Reps Facebook page, here to catch up or watch it again. There is also a Frequently Asked Questions document which accompanied the Live Show.

A reminder though: Australian Council of Trade Unions assistant secretary Liam O'Brien welcomed the start of the program, but reminded workplace stakeholders that it "will not happen overnight".  He said, "It is essential that all workers – especially those in high-risk industries – continue to be kept safe in their workplaces by the social distancing and other procedures which have saved so many lives over the last year."  Read more: ACTU media release 

New COVID-19 vaccine information for workplaces:

Victorian information

There is a page on the DHHS site with a lot of information on the vaccines and Victoria's rollout program: COVID-19 vaccines. The page has information about the different vaccines, who will get vaccinated first, and a COVID-19 'Information hub' page. There are also links to Commonwealth information. 

The government has also developed translated content about vaccine rollout. This includes information on:

  1. Health advice and restrictions;
  2. the COVID-19 vaccine;
  3. Business and work;
  4. Education;
  5. Travel and transport; 
  6. Housing; and
  7. Safety

To check whether there is information in the language you're looking for, go to this page. (here is the information in English). Information in more languages will be uploaded as it becomes available, but there are already many there including, but not limited to: 

Safe Work Australia has published new information about work health and safety and COVID-19 vaccines.

SWA reminds employers that they have a duty under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. The new guidance provides information about rights and obligations under the model WHS laws and how they relate to COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccine work health and safety information is available for employers, small business and workers in 37 different industries and is accessible via the dropdown menu tool on the SWA site.  

Advice to HSRs - Consultation 

As noted above, all businesses which are operating in metropolitan Melbourne must have a COVIDSafe or a High Risk COVIDSafe Plan in place. Remember, your employer has a duty to consult with HSRs under s35 of the Act, including when developing and implementing the COVIDSafe plan. HSRs should also be consulted by the employer on the nomination of workers to be invited to register for a vaccine.  Contact your union or the OHS Team at Trades Hall if you have any questions. WorkSafe has recently released a new video on Consultation - specifically in relation to making workplaces COVID-safe.