Consider mandatory vaccines, urges epidemiologist

Consider mandatory vaccines, urges epidemiologist

Coronavirus
CORONAVIRUS ROADMAP: Leading Victorian epidemiologist Professor Nancy Baxter says a roadmap out of COVID-19 lockdowns is important for industries such as agriculture. File photo.

CORONAVIRUS ROADMAP: Leading Victorian epidemiologist Professor Nancy Baxter says a roadmap out of COVID-19 lockdowns is important for industries such as agriculture. File photo.

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Roadmap for ag is important, says leading epidemiologist.

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A leading Melbourne epidemiologist has strongly recommended mandatory coronavirus vaccinations for agricultural workers.

University of Melbourne School of Population and Global Health head and epidemiologist Nancy Baxter said the community would eventually find itself "living with COVID".

"But until sufficient numbers of people are vaccinated, we will not be able to sustain normal activities while there is community transmission." Professor Baxter said.

"I definitely agree that a roadmap is important for industries such as agriculture, and definitely the industry should consider vaccine mandates for workers," she said.

"Migrant workers in particular must be protected - as they often live in congregant living facilities.

"COVID can really have a massive and deadly impact for these workers - see what happened in Ontario, Canada."

During the first wave last year, outbreaks in south western Ontario, led to about 500 cases of coronavirus and three deaths.

Tight living conditions mitigated against effective physical distancing, while there might not be enough PPE and workers feared losing income, if they presented for testing.

Prof Baxter said the Department of Health and Human Services should reach out to the Victorian Farmers Federation to discuss how to make workplaces safe and develop contingency plans for farms.

Read more: Time the Victorian Government developed a pathway out of COVID

"Given the complexity and critical nature of agricultural production, the department of health should definitely be working with farmers to develop these plans." Prof Baxter said.

It appeared there didn't seem to be any specific guidance for farms, which was a major issue.

"It's all pretty generic," Prof Baxter said.

Maintaining COVID-zero in the regions, until 80 per cent vaccination had been achieved, would be step one on a road map.

"Protecting the regions from incursions with restrictions and testing - including rapid testing - needs to be strongly enforced until the regions have high rates of vaccination," she said.

COVID-safe workplace plans - including mandating vaccination - should continue, to minimise transmission.

"If there is community spread to the regions prior to achieving high rates of vaccination, operating agriculture at desired levels will be very challenging - so absolutely anything that can be done to keep COVID out of the regions really needs to be done."

Read more: AMIC head angry at meatworks' restrictions

Deakin University's Chair in Epidemiology Catherine Bennett said viral spread of coronavirus was inevitable, as locals from regional centres started to move across Victoria or workers carried it unknowingly.

"The aim in Australia is to keep infections low and serious illness tightly controlled, but it's important for all communities to aim for a high level of vaccination to help protect the community from an outbreak taking off," Professor Bennett said.

That would ensure individuals were at a much lower risk of having to be rushed to hospital, if their health deteriorated.

"All those COVID-safe measures now in place, whether at work, or people remembering to social distance in town, will play an important ongoing role in protecting against local outbreaks," she said.

"The path out means we don't have to worry about every case that might come in to town, but that does rely on enough locals being vaccinated."

The Department of Health and Human Services has been contacted for comment.

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