EXPLAINER

No jab, no fly: who decides on mandate?

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce indicated international passengers could be required to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Picture: Getty Images
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce indicated international passengers could be required to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Picture: Getty Images

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce fired the starting gun on what measures will be taken to encourage the public to get vaccinated for COVID-19, flagging a "non-negotiable" vaccine requirement for international travel.

On Monday night he told A Current Affair that Qantas was looking at changing its terms and conditions for out-bound international travellers, asking people to have a vaccination before they get on the aircraft.

"Whether you'll need that domestically, we'll have to see for COVID-19 and the market," he said. "But certainly for international visitors coming out, people leaving the country, we think that's a necessity."

Vaccines against COVID-19 will be free, voluntary and should be available to Australians in March, says health minister Greg Hunt. So prepare for four months of speculation and debate around what activities will try to implement a vaccine mandate.

Can businesses make a vaccine mandatory?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has already decided the federal government won't make it mandatory for everyone, even while it's buying enough doses to vaccinate the entire population three times over. Labor has taken the same position. That means any business or community body that wants to enforce a vaccine requirement will face the legal consequences on their own.

Without legislation, business-driven mandates will depends on how the requirement is implemented. Legal thinkers don't expect a challenge has much of chance of striking down a vaccine requirement.

Human rights lawyers have looked thoroughly at vaccine mandates after it became a hot issue around 2014, when the NSW government began exploring the first "no jab, no play" rules for childcare facilities. The Commonwealth and states allow exemptions on medical grounds, so disability discrimination has not been tested. Vaccine objection is not accepted as a valid medical exemption by any of those existing laws.

There seems to be a consensus that industries that try to implement a mandate will exempt people unable to be vaccinated on medical grounds. That was the assumption among politicians questioned about Qantas' move this week.

Will politicians step in?

MPs from the government and opposition have said the Qantas decision is up to them.

Shadow health minister Chris Bowen on Tuesday said there should always be sensible checks and balances in place and was sure Qantas will take those into consideration.

"Ultimately, that's a matter for Qantas but, and other airlines, of course, but whatever efforts they take to ensure the health and safety of the staff and passengers I'm sure would receive broad community support."

Senator Pauline Hanson was the first, and so far only, federal politician to condemn a vaccination requirement for international travel.

"Until we get all the facts from the government -- including the number of actual deaths caused by COVID-19 and autopsy reports to back it up -- I have no intention of accepting an unproven vaccine into my body."

Australia has signed on acquire doses from five vaccine programs, each of which will have to pass Therapeutic Goods Administration evaluation. The AstraZeneca vaccine, which partnered with Oxford University and developed locally with CSL, this week reported that their trials show up to 90 per cent effectiveness. Last week Moderna's and Pfizer's trials showed nearly 95 per cent effectiveness.

Vaccines are also mandated by government in specific situations, such as returning travelers from some countries needing a vaccine for yellow fever.

When can we expect to see mandates?

No airline will implement new terms and conditions until there is a sufficient number of vaccine doses in Australia to safely open up international borders again.

March 2021 at the earliest, according to health minister Greg Hunt based on the interim results of trails, which were a "pathway to not just a COVID-safe Australia, but a fully safe Australia -- a return to normal."

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The first 3.8 million doses bought overseas will be distributed to front line workers. Another 30 million doses will be manufactured in Melbourne by CSL, while the remainder will have to be imported and take longer.

Not every vaccine will be effective for each person, so it will take some time to ensure those who can be vaccinated with the right dose have the opportunity to do so.

"We'll have a variety of options," Hunt said. "Enough to vaccinate the Australian population three times over."

How do you prove you've been vaccinated?

The playbook for how to implement a vaccine mandate if you're a government is to require an immunisation history statement provided by the Australian Immunisation Register. It wasn't designed for a situation where businesses are running the show, but it could be a starting point.

Only a recognised vaccination provider can update the register through the Medicare system, so businesses may prefer it.

Entry to Australia can already require a yellow fever vaccination certificate, which is checked at customs and immigration.

A home-printed card that you've downloaded from the Internet that says you're immune or exempt as a "sovereign citizen" is worthless and will not be accepted.

Which industries might mandate a vaccination?

Without active measures to encourage take-up of the vaccine, less than 60 per cent of Australians are expected to voluntarily opt for a vaccine, according to government estimates.

The 2011 film Contagion by Steven Soderbergh imagined a situation where businesses might be part of the vaccination push. In the film characters are seen having a wristband barcode scanned before being allowed into shopping centers.

Domestic travel is one as yet undecided area, with Joyce leaving open the possibility for Qantas. Virgin Australia ducked giving a definitive answer on vaccine requirements, replying that they'll wait and see when international travel resumes.

Australian sporting codes and international competitions have also indicated they'll wait and see, declining to make an official statement at this time.

State governments may introduce mandates to schools and daycare.

This story No jab, no fly: who decides on mandate? first appeared on The Canberra Times.