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Call for mandatory vaccinations for hearing service providers…

In an Open letter to major audiology chains and their representatives, the Deafness Forum of Australia called for a mandatory vaccination policy for providers of hearing services.

Deafness Forum thanked hearing services providers, clinicians and customer care staff for continuing to meet the hearing and communication needs of Australians of all ages throughout the COVID pandemic. It is recognised that this required staff to put themselves at risk at times, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic. Staff also needed to adapt to delivering services in more innovative ways, as well as applying more rigorous infection control protocols in order to keep everyone safe. Consumers are extremely grateful that they were able to continue to receive hearing services during this challenging time.

But now that we are moving from very strict protocols for face-to-face contact to more reliance on vaccinations, there does not appear to be a clear approach for protecting people who are accessing hearing services in the future.

Unvaccinated people are estimated to be 10-20 times more likely to pass on the virus to other people than vaccinated people [source]. This is particularly concerning given that people with hearing loss are most likely to be vulnerable (e.g., those under 12 who cannot yet be vaccinated and the elderly).

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee has recommended mandatory vaccination for disability support workers. Some States and Territories have issued Public Health Orders in relation to mandatory vaccination for people working in residential aged care facilities, hospitals and disability support workers. Queensland Health has issued a Public Health Direction requiring all healthcare workers to be vaccinated. This includes audiologists and support staff: it does not specify audiometrists but we ask you to include them in the implementation of the Order.

Deafness Forum believes it is crucial to remove any ambiguity and provide confidence to consumers.

Deafness Forum urges hearing services providers, large and small, to take the lead and implement a policy of mandatory vaccination for all staff (clinical and support staff) that provide hearing services directly to clients in any setting, such as a person’s home, a clinic, a visiting location, a school.

Having an industry-specific policy would:

  • remove ambiguity about which staff are covered by a mandatory vaccination policy
  • provide clarity on the workplaces/settings covered by a mandatory vaccination policy
  • ensure consistency across the country
  • cover any gaps in current Public Health Orders/Directions in States and Territories

The implementation of a mandatory vaccination policy for all hearing services staff involved in direct service delivery would be very reassuring for consumers, as they would know that the hearing care staff they are seeing would be vaccinated without having to ask, especially as the staff are not obliged to reveal their vaccination status.

We request providers to publish their vaccination policy on their websites and through Deafness Forum, perhaps by the end of the year. This would improve transparency for consumers.

We have asked the Government – as it has for the disability workforce – to require Hearing Services Program providers to implement mandatory vaccination of their client-facing workforce given that the vast majority of HSP clients are highly vulnerable.

This Open letter was also sent to:

  • Minister for Regional Health & Hearing
  • Minister for Families and Social Services
  • Minister for Government Services and National Disability Insurance Scheme
  • Department of Health, Hearing Services Program
  • Department of Social Services: NDIS, Medicare, Hearing Australia