Vaccine mandates creating an “underclass of the unvaccinated” in Victoria

vaccine underclass

Australian religious leaders are broadly supportive of Covid-19 vaccinations, however they are concerned a vaccine mandate could create an underclass of the unvaccinated.

While turning the unvaccinated away is a public health imperative, it is theologically very difficult for many religions.

Father Peter Nguyen of St Dominic’s Catholic Church in Camberwell is grateful for an easing of restrictions in Victoria from Oct 29. This will allow him to hold a small Mass for people with “unknown vaccination status”.

“I didn’t want to say, ‘Sorry, you can’t come’ to the unvaccinated,” Father Peter says. “Jesus was about including rather than excluding people.”

From last Friday, places of worship are allowed to hold indoor services for the fully vaccinated, with a density limit of one person per four square metres. Outdoor services for the fully vaccinated are capped at 500 and services of up to 30 for those of “unknown vaccination status”.

Most Masses at St Dominic’s will require all people to be double jabbed and carry proof of their vaccination status. But a special Mass for those of “unknown vaccination status” will be held at 6pm on Sunday.

However, faith leaders do not need to be vaccinated to conduct a service.

Premier Daniel Andrews has flagged unvaccinated Victorians will be barred from most venues and events until 2023.

Melbourne Catholic Archbishop Peter Comensoli – who says Catholics are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated – welcomed Victoria’s second to last opening-up stage from Friday.

Comensoli believes Victorians also need a marker when a unified gathering might happen. He says he will continue to work with other faith leaders on proposals that allow both vaccinated and unvaccinated people to worship in person safely.

“After many long months of isolation, continued forms of segregation within the community are deeply damaging. We cannot let this become the only way for COVID-accommodation,” he says.

“As faith communities, we are here to support and comfort those in need and to be open to all regardless of who a person is or why they come.”

Rabbi Gabi Kaltmann from the Ark Centre in Hawthorn East says most synagogues are unwilling to risk COVID transmission by allowing the unvaccinated to attend services or prayer groups.

“What I am seeing is the people most in need of a sense of community are the ones who aren’t taking up vaccinations,” Rabbi Kaltmann says. “I’m seeing people falling through the cracks of society and becoming increasingly isolated. I think once we reach 90 per cent double vaccination, the government must re-evaluate.”

Bishop Paul Barker from the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne is horrified by Mr Andrews’ suggestion that the unvaccinated will remain excluded in Victoria until at least 2023.

“We are anxious that in society – not just in churches – we don’t create a division or an underclass of the unvaccinated,” Bishop Barker says.

Barker said he understood Victorian health officials were reluctant to set a date for when unvaccinated people could have the same freedom because they didn’t want them to simply wait it out.

“But I think personally, if we get to 90 percent double vaccination and low case numbers, it should end then.”


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