The AMA rejects mandating a COVID-19 vaccination

Doctors are urging governments not to compel Australians to have a COVID-19 vaccination, warning that the fast-tracked approval process could create a risk of harmful side effects. Australian Medical Association President, Omar Khorshid, said that while the Association was “very supportive of vaccination generally … it’s not going to be the case for a COVID vaccine, at least initially.”

The President’s comments followed an announcement by Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, that the Government plans to get a vaccine into Australia, and said the jab would be “as mandatory as you can possibly make it”, but later declared that “It’s not going to be compulsory.” In mid-August, the Australian government announced an agreement with the British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca to supply at least 25 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine if it passes clinical trials. The vaccine has been developed by the University of Oxford and is currently in phase-three testing. The vaccination could be available near the beginning of 2021 at the earliest.

Some authorities are calling for people who refuse a vaccine to be stripped of welfare benefits in a similar way to what is done in schools and childcare, where kids are treated in a ‘no jab, no play’ way. Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, has expressed his support for this idea. In any case, Dr Khorshid says he does not believe these tough measures will be necessary because Australians will see that “Vaccination is the only way to get back to our normal lives.”

The Government and other authorities appear to be unaware that the Australian constitution bans people being forced to have or be coerced into having any medical procedure.

Dr Khorshid said restricting certain freedoms in order to promote vaccination could not be justified with a new COVID-19 vaccine. “We have to acknowledge that it is a rushed approval process, and even if the phase-three trials on this Oxford vaccine go really well, it’s still not absolutely proven that it is safe, not as proven as is normally the case. The does increase the risk that there might be rare side effects – that we just don’t know about.” A new vaccine for use in Australia normally takes many years to develop and test before the Therapeutic Goods Administration will approve it, but this COVID-19 vaccine is being rushed through in a mere year or two, hence the warning for caution by the AMA.

Professor Colin Pouton of the Monash University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences said that it is important to give people “the right to opt-out of a vaccine program”. And “Restricting travel or schooling for those who opt-out is a difficult ethical issue which one would prefer to avoid if the uptake of the vaccine is high,” Professor Pouton said. Neither the NSW nor Victorian state governments would rule out tying COVID-19 vaccination to access to services.

Professor Heidi Larson of the University of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has spent a decade researching vaccine confidence, said that the ‘no jab, no play’ policies had generated global opposition to vaccination. “It’s one of the quickest ways to lose the confidence of the public,” she said.

AMA President, Dr Khorshid, said it was his expectation that a COVID-19 vaccine would initially only be approved for adults, and he supported the idea of the federal government establishing a no-fault vaccine injury compensation scheme before rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine. “If society is asking everyone to get vaccinated to protect each other, we have a collective responsibility to look after the very rare and unfortunate individuals who are harmed by vaccines,” he said. One of the major problems with vaccines is that doctors rarely read to their patients the numerous possible side effects which are listed in the package inserts. This is partly why fully-informed freedom of choice is so important. As one doctor wrote recently, all medical procedures have pros and cons and the only proper way forward is to lay out all relevant information on the table and determine the best way to use the procedure for the benefit of all possible individuals. Where only one side of a procedure is presented, this is akin to religious fundamentalism.  This is the case with vaccination. Only the positive aspects are ever mentioned in the media and rarely or never the fact that some children and adults have been seriously harmed and in rare cases even killed by vaccination. In view of the risks, freedom of choice is vitally important.

Medical ethics are governed by the Hippocratic Oath, the modern version of which requires doctors to swear – among other things – that “I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures that are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism”. And as is commonly summarised, ‘First do no harm’.

 To support the AMA, readers can write to their local MPs, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, urging them to deliver complete freedom of choice.

 The quotes and some key points in the above are based on an article by Dana McCauley, published in the Sun-Herald, Sunday 23rd August 2020. Dana is the health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. We commend her for her unbiased and thorough coverage of the subject.

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