Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks on the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and reliable health information

3 February, 2021


First of all, I would like to start by thanking the people of Warringah and the Northern Beaches for their amazing hard work and sacrifice in holding at bay and in check so quickly the outbreak that broke out around Christmas time. I do acknowledge how hard that was and the sacrifice that came, especially for our local businesses, and I do continue to advocate for better support for those businesses, but this was necessary. I was so incredibly proud of the level of testing, the level of compliance and how hard everyone in the Northern Beaches and Warringah worked to keep that outbreak in check. I would also like to thank the health minister for responding to my calls to liaise with me in relation to having more testing centres. I think that clearly translated into high testing rates and being able to work together on issues of concern as they came up in the community.

I'd like to speak on the Australian Immunisation Register Amendment (Reporting) Bill 2020. This is really important legislation at this turning point in Australia in dealing with the health crisis of COVID. The main point of the bill is to create a requirement for recognised vaccination providers to report to the Australian Immunisation Register information relating to vaccinations they administer and vaccines they are notified about that were given outside Australia. It's vital that we know who has been vaccinated, especially in circumstances of limited availability of vaccines as we are seeing emerge globally in response to COVID-19. Currently there's no statutory mechanism by which the Commonwealth can require vaccination providers to report vaccines administered. Vaccination providers are encouraged at the moment to report all vaccines administered to the AIR; however, as reporting is voluntary, not all vaccines administered are reported, and it is really important this legislation amends that situation.

Reporting to the AIR is maintained at high levels, and the data entered is sufficiently reliable for the administration of childhood immunisations due to a number of existing policy and program settings which encourage reporting. I know it's been some years, but I'm of the generation with the blue book for our children and the regular trips for immunisation. But it has seen the drop of so many illnesses and the protection of our children, so it really does reinforce how lucky we are in Australia to have such a strong vaccination program.

Records of vaccinations for teenagers and adults are less reliable, and that is where it becomes so crucial for COVID. Given the significant cost of public vaccinations, improving record keeping by mandating reporting of vaccinations is both medically and financially prudent. This bill will introduce a requirement for those who administer vaccinations to report vaccinations for COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations from 1 March 2021 and all other national immunisation programs from 1 July this year. This bill will introduce civil penalties for providers of vaccines who don't comply with reporting requirements. It is so important that we have a high uptake of the vaccine.

Last month I conducted a public online event with one of my esteemed constituents from Warringah, Professor Mary-Louise McLaws. She's a professor of epidemiology, healthcare infection and infectious disease controls at the University of New South Wales, and she stressed very clearly the importance of a high uptake of vaccination in the population. These vaccines are not 100 per cent foolproof; they require a high level of uptake so that we multiply and maximise their benefit.

It is concerning that yesterday Newspoll released a poll that showed there were about 75 per cent who planned to get the vaccine, but it did still leave 25 per cent of those questioned who indicated they would not. So clear messaging matters. We need to influence the 25 per cent. The data from the government indicated that the goal was to vaccinate at least 80 per cent of Australians, which means we need to influence that 25 per cent. Facts matter, and it's important that as parliamentarians we provide the right information to our constituents. I urge the people of Warringah: if you have any concerns about the vaccine, go to your health professionals; get health professionals' advice in respect of it. That was something that Professor Mary-Louise McLaws stressed very clearly. It is really important that people turn to their health professionals for that information.

There's been a raging debate about members of the backbench disseminating false information. I can only reiterate my call for there to be a higher professional standard for members of parliament. Information and facts matter. We saw in the aftermath of the US election how far misinformation can lead people. In that sense, whilst I support freedom of speech, freedom of speech comes with responsibility. So it is important. Facts matter.