The retention of double-dose COVID-19 vaccination mandates for workers in most settings no longer stacks up, leading Australian epidemiologists concede.
Professor Nancy Baxter, epidemiologist and head of the University of Melbourne’s School of Population and Global Health, says that — with the exception of settings that put the vulnerable at risk, such as aged care — the mandates make less sense now than they did earlier in the pandemic.
“[We’ve eliminated] density restrictions, mandatory mask wearing and recommendations for working at home … those [measures] that we know will be effective against transmission,” she told a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the state’s pandemic orders.
“It’s unclear why we’re maintaining mandatory vaccines just for that.”
Professor Catherine Bennett, Deakin University’s chair of epidemiology, says that the situation has fundamentally changed since two-dose worker vaccine mandates were considered justified and necessary.
“I don’t think there’s any dispute that they served a role at the time.
“It did make a difference in terms of our population-level response and our control, but I don’t think there was ever going to be an argument – even before Omicron – for keeping the two-dose mandates in place.”
Baxter notes that a significant number of Australians remained unprotected against the virus, including children under five and some immunocompromised people.
She emphasises that society should still maintain rigorous safety measures in settings such as aged care, health care and disability settings, where patients and clients are particularly at risk.
Bringing back mask mandates, Baxter concludes, would better serve pandemic control than excluding unvaccinated persons from public spaces.
Earlier, Professor Margaret Hellard , deputy program director at the Burnet Institute, told the inquiry that authorities should still pursue measures to minimise cases and deaths, estimating Australia could post between 10,000 and 15,000 COVID-related deaths this year.
“If we — in May — had implemented … simple measures to reduce transmission by 20 per cent, over 2000 Australian lives would be saved,” she said.
This news comes as Tasmania announced the of dropping mask mandates in public settings— including hospitals, aged care facilities, disability providers and correctional facilities — come June 30.
Australia reported more than 32,000 new COVID-19 cases and a further 72 virus-related deaths on Thursday.
The federal health department estimates that there are currently 205,466 active COVID cases, 2818 persons currently hospitalised and 97 persons receiving intensive care.