News & Current Affairs

By Phoebe Tulk


Moderna? Pfizer? Johnson & Johnson? AstraZeneca?

With the Victorian government announcing on 21 April 2021 that they plan to invest $50 million into the domestic manufacturing of mRNA vaccines alike Pfizer and Moderna, prospects for Australian’s awaiting the vaccine have once again improved. The decision to broaden Australia’s access to international vaccines likely comes after the widespread media coverage surrounding the vaccine AstraZeneca apparently triggering rare cases of thrombosis – blood clots.

Despite the risk of thrombosis raising valid concerns, contracting the rare condition following vaccination is HIGHLY unlikely. The probability of developing such clots is only one in 295,000.

However, the vaccine roll out has been irreversibly disrupted. Inevitable reluctance has arisen among Australians, bolstering the ideals of anti-vaxxers and encouraging many individuals to cancel their upcoming vaccination appointments.

Surmounting lack of confidence in the government’s vaccine program raises questions regarding potentially imposing a mandatory vaccination program. Such a concept elicits numerous legal issues and debates surrounding balancing community interests and individual rights.

As such, it is unlikely the Australian government will attempt any contravention of legislative barriers in pursuit of vaccinating all Australians. However, methods of compulsion are not explicitly forbidden. Incentives and punishments alike the ‘No Jab No Play’ policy, which limited access to social security payments as penalty for children lacking up-to-date shots, are legitimate methods through which the government can attempt to induce vaccination.

The story is different for workplaces and certain industries. Hospitals and aged care centres, where health and safety are a prominent issue, may impose lawful orders for employees to be vaccinated. It is arguably reasonable that in such high-risk environments, employers have preference to make such compulsory orders in order to meet Work, Health and Safety obligations.

Similarly, the WA government recently declared that the Pfizer vaccine is to be compulsory for hotel quarantine workers, despite on average two out of five refusing to consent to the vaccine. Such employees include security guards, cleaners, general hotel staff and all medical workers involved with the process.

It is unsurprising that discussions surrounding a mandated vaccine raise issues of human rights breaches. The world of COVID-19 inherently provokes such disputes. When considering the legalities of travel bans, assembly restrictions, and contact tracing, there are a vast number of once-cherished freedoms and rights currently contravened or impeded. However, when viewed holistically, such infringements prove necessary to protect our right to life and health, as recognised internationally in the International Covenant Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Attempts have been made to have the Australian government’s COVID-19 measures declared as illegal and in contravention of right to liberty and freedom of movement. As evidenced in Loielo v Giles (2020) VSC 722, mandates such as the ‘greater Melbourne’ curfew were declared as lawful in order to combat the pandemic and protect public health.

The Courts have evidently corroborated the restrictive measures undertaken by both the state and Commonwealth Parliaments. In June 2020, the NSW Supreme Court banned the Sydney Black Lives Matter rally. Justice Desmond Fagan conceded to attempting to balance the fundamental right to public assembly with the safety of the community, yet professed that he would not defy the judgements made by government ministers and public health officials.

It boils down to balancing the rights and interests of the collective with the rights of the individual. As Australia lacks a definitive human rights document alike the United States Bill of Rights, it may prove harder to achieve equilibrium when there is an absence of legal infrastructure. It is unavoidable that conflict will continue to appear as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more readily available in Australia, thus it is important we try to consider how comparatively lucky we are in respect to other nations.