An Australian paramedic who launched a legal challenge to be exempted from receiving COVID-19 vaccines has had his case dismissed by a Supreme Court justice.
John Larter, a veteran New South Wales (NSW) paramedic and deputy mayor of the Snowy Valleys Council, filed a lawsuit against the NSW State Health Minister Brad Hazzard challenging a public health order mandating health workers receive the first dose of the vaccine by Sept. 30, and the second dose by Nov. 30.
Larter also sought an exemption from vaccination on religious grounds. His lawyers said last week that the paramedic finds the COVID-19 vaccines “morally repugnant” due to his Roman Catholicism, morality, and conservative political views, The Canberra Times reported.
The deputy mayor also argued that the court should invalidate the NSW law for various other reasons, including that it was “unreasonable” for unvaccinated workers to be terminated for a temporary pandemic.
Larter launched an online fundraiser to cover his legal costs, which had raised over AU$243,000 ($180,000) as of Nov. 10.
But Justice Christine Adamson on Nov. 10 dismissed the case by Larter, saying the public health order in its original form was “reasonable” and that it was established to remove the increased risk of transmission posed by unvaccinated health workers across NSW.
“It would be of no comfort to the vulnerable patient who is infected by the unvaccinated health care worker to be told that he or she was unlucky by being in the wrong ward at the wrong time, because most health care workers had been vaccinated,” she said, according to The Canberra Times.
Adamson concluded that the “reasons and thought processes” given in evidence by NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant “provided a comprehensive explanation of the rationale of the orders.”
Meanwhile, the judge added that Larter “would be in the same position if his objection to the virus arose from veganism, Buddhism, Catholicism, or idiosyncratic beliefs,” when referencing his religious exception claim, ABC News reported.
New South Wales has seen multiple lawsuits challenging the state government’s response to COVID-19, including vaccine mandates and health restrictions.
Al-Munir Kassam, a Sydney-based construction worker; Natasha Henry, a Byron Bay-based aged care worker; and eight other plaintiffs, launched legal action in September against the state’s vaccine mandate—which many argued would force them to receive the vaccine or risk losing their job. Hazzard, Chant, and the state and federal government were the subjects of the lawsuit.
During the height of the recent Delta variant outbreak in Sydney, the NSW government mandated those living within a “hotspot” needed to receive one dose of the vaccine before they could leave their local government area (LGA) to work. These restrictions have since been removed.
However, according to an Oct. 15 court ruling, public health orders requiring teachers, health professionals, and construction workers to be vaccinated or face restrictions on their freedom of movement are valid.
Justice Robert Beech-Jones of the NSW Supreme Court said it had considered the arguments bought forward by the plaintiffs including whether the public health orders impugned on the right to freedom of movement, the right to bodily integrity, and whether they were arbitrary or “unreasonable” because they were discriminating on the basis of vaccine status.
The judge ultimately said that the state health minister had the power to abrogate rights, saying public health orders were doing the “very thing which the legislation sets out to achieve.”
“So far as the right to bodily integrity is concerned, it is not violated as the impugned orders do not authorise the involuntary vaccination of anyone,” he said in his judgement.
“So far as the impairment of freedom of movement is concerned, the degree of impairment differs depending on whether a person is vaccinated or unvaccinated,” Beech-Jones added. “Curtailing the free movement of persons including their movement to and at work are the very type of restrictions that the Public Health Act clearly authorises.”
The judge also noted that the public health orders were not construed as “unreasonable,” stating that this would only be the case if individuals were differentiated on the “basis of race, gender, or the mere holding of a political opinion.”