THERE’S been a bit of ambulance paramedic bashing going on in the past week, by the Australian Medical Association no less, apparently because 4.5 per cent of ‘on-road clinical staff’ are declining to get vaccinated.

In total, that’s reportedly 256 ambulance officers and according to the ABC, Gippsland has one of the lowest rates of vaccination among ambulance paramedics operating in the local area.

But at last Friday’s daily briefing, Premier Daniel Andrews said he wasn’t concerned, that with upwards of 95 per cent of ambulances officers likely to get vaccinated, it would probably be the highest rate of vaccination in any cohort.

“It may be that we have to make it mandatory in a number of areas. I wouldn’t want anyone though, and there’s been a bit of a tiff today between the doctors’ union and the paramedics’ union, I wouldn’t read too much into that, that there’s any hesitancy amongst ambos at all.

“They’ll be getting vaccinated just as quickly as they can. Some people do have mild issues the day after they get vaccinated, they might be a bit under the weather, these are things that have to be balanced and I’m very pleased and all the briefings I get about nurses, medical staff, ambulance paramedics, allied health professionals all the way through everyone to prison officers, everybody in those kind of priority cohorts, where if they’re not vaccinated, there’s a greater risk, we’ve done very well so far, we’re well and truly on track.

“The mandating is just about, perhaps that last push, the last push to get everyone there. And often people work to a deadline but oh no, our paramedics are doing an amazing job and I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t read anything into that. I don’t think there’s any hesitancy whatsoever.

“And in fact, if it is down to just 4.5% that haven’t been vaccinated, that’s probably higher than just about any other cohort anywhere across the country.

“So, we’ll finish that off in all those different areas and mandatory vaccination may well be part of that, just like aged care I should add,” Mr Andrews said.

In a statement to the Sentinel-Times this week, Ambulance Victoria has not expressed any concern.

“As frontline healthcare workers, paramedics and first responders were among the first Victorians eligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccine from February 22,” said Ambulance Victoria’s Executive Director People and Culture Rebecca Hodges.

“They know vaccines protect themselves and the community, which is why more than 84% have all chosen to be vaccinated – and we are confident this number will continue to increase.

“We are working with staff to ensure this number continues to increase, it’s why we have an experienced public health and vaccinology physician available to provide specialist advice if required and all staff are able to access vaccination leave following their jab if required.”

Ambulance Victoria provided the following background notes:

  • Whilst we have a clear expectation that all frontline staff are vaccinated, we acknowledge there are a number of medical and other reasons that staff may decline.
  • Vaccination is an important part of our armour and protecting ourselves against coronavirus, and we are working closely with staff to ensure all of our people receive the jab, if able to do so.
  • In addition to vaccination, paramedics continue to use personal protection equipment when attending all cases, including suspected COVID-19 call outs. This includes goggles, gloves, face mask and an infection control suit or gown.
  • These well established and robust measures ensure our paramedics can continue to care for the community safely.

The Australian Medical Association has called for compulsory vaccination of all frontline medical staff, and its president told the ABC those who did not wish to be vaccinated should consider leaving their profession.

However, the ambulance union has cautioned against reading too much into the figures and argued against mandatory vaccination of paramedics.

The debate follows complaints by the ambulance union that paramedics were being sent to the homes of COVID-19 patients without being warned they were entering an exposure site.

Secretary of the Victorian Ambulance Union, Danny Hill, said paramedics might refuse to be vaccinated for religious or medical reasons, but cautioned it was too early to tell why so many paramedics had not yet received the shot.

“I don’t think we can draw any conclusions from that number on its own just yet. That’s an internal survey that was done within Ambulance Victoria, and Ambulance Victoria are actually doing quite well in getting their staff vaccinated — they’re up to around 80 per cent who have actually chosen to get the vaccine so far,” Mr Hill said.

“There are a number of people who probably won’t be able to due to medical reasons, possibly religious reasons, we don’t know enough about that yet, and I think that really needs to be further explored before we form any views on just that number alone.”

Mr Hill also argued against mandatory vaccination of frontline medical staff, including paramedics.

“Look, in its current form, no. The unions are working with government, the department, and employers on how to maximise the uptake of the vaccine,” he said.

“So that still needs to be worked through and we are keen to work through all those issues with government, the department, and until we get to the bottom of all that, we shouldn’t be talking about any requirement just yet.”

Premier Daniel Andrews said any frontline healthcare workers who were refusing to be vaccinated should reconsider their decision.

“I would say to anybody who is minded not to get vaccinated that that is the wrong choice to make. The evidence is very clear, these vaccines are safe, these vaccines are incredibly effective for people avoiding getting really, really sick,” he said.

It may also be that the State Government’s plans to introduce “lockout” rather than “lockdown” rules as we get to 80% of the adult population fully vaccinated, that almost everyone will jump on board.