Compulsory COVID-19 vaccinations for ECEC?
Compulsory COVID-19 vaccinations for ECEC?
As we have previously reported in our story on mandatory vaccinations in ECEC, while vaccination for children in early education environments is largely compulsory throughout Australia, people currently working in the early childhood sector are as yet exempt from mandatory vaccinations.
But will this continue to be the case once the Covid-19 vaccination becomes available throughout Australia for the general public?
At the moment, the government is rolling out what they are calling Phase 1a of the Covid-19 vaccination schedule. As doses of the vaccine become available in Australia, those most at risk of exposure, infection and transmission will be eligible for vaccination first. This includes frontline health care workers such as doctors and nurses, aged and disability care workers and residents, and people in high-risk settings such as border control, many of whom have already received the vaccine.
Those working in ECEC will be part of Phase 2b of the rollout, expected to happen towards the middle of this year.
While the government is not making vaccination compulsory for Australians, some employers may seek to make it a condition of employment for their staff.
So, will this apply to those of us working in early childhood education and care?
Considering the exposure risks of working with young children, who can’t reasonably be expected to maintain social distancing or hygiene standards, as well as educators’ duty of care to the children enrolled in child care services, the answer is: most likely.
The ABC reported that the legality of workplaces enforcing vaccination comes down to workplace health and safety, and what level of risk a working environment poses.
"A direction to get the vaccine is more likely to be lawful and reasonable for businesses that face higher risks of an outbreak,” says Karl Rozenbergs, partner at Hall & Wilcox law firm.
"Examples include hospitals and aged care facilities, businesses that involve working with children who are too young to have been vaccinated themselves, and businesses that involve other forms of physical interaction."
An article written by Cecilia Anthony Das and Kenneth Yin, both lecturers at Edith Cowan University, mentions the claimed unfair dismissal of child-care worker Nicole Arnold by Goodstart Early Learning, for refusing to get a flu vaccination.
Vaccination against influenza was made a condition of employment by Goodstart in April of 2020, except for those with “exemptions on medical grounds”.
Arnold - a conscientious objector - could not prove a medical exemption but refused to be vaccinated and was subsequently fired.
She claimed that her dismissal was unlawful, and that her then employer’s insistence that she receive the vaccination could be considered assault and a violation of her human rights and “bodily integrity”, as reported in a Financial Review article.
The claim was overruled by the Fair Work Commission in November 2020. According to the article, “The commission dismissed Arnold’s application to have her case heard on the basis Goodstart’s vaccination policy was arguably reasonable to satisfy its duty of care to children, while Arnold’s refusal was arguably unreasonable.”
This ruling sets a precedent for the industry that will likely be applied to making Covid-19 vaccination a condition of employment in ECEC facilities, because of the exposure and transmission risks of adults working with children, and because of the risk that poses to young children.
No vaccine has yet been developed that is suitable for use in people under 16. As symptoms in children who have contracted the virus have mostly been fairly mild in comparison to other age groups, developing a vaccine for minors has not been seen as a priority.
However, given the ease with which Covid-19 is transmitted, and knowing the transmission rates for communicable diseases within early childhood environments, it is reasonable to expect adults working with young children to require vaccination in order to lower transmission and infection rates.
Vaccination to all eligible Australians will be free and will be administered on a voluntary basis for the general public.
“The government has confirmed that not getting the vaccine will not affect a family’s eligibility for the family tax benefit or fee assistance with childcare”, say writers for The Guardian in an article on the vaccine.
“No jab no play” rules only apply to the National Immunisation Program vaccines, and the Covid-19 vaccine will not be included in this.” Individuals can check their eligibility at different phases of the rollout by visiting the Department of Health’s Covid-19 Vaccine Eligibility Checker.
Once you are eligible to receive the vaccine, it will likely be administered by your GP or pharmacist, although the process is different for Phase 1a recipients who are being administered the Pfizer vaccine, which has special requirements.
Most versions of the vaccine require two doses, administered through injection, and have mild side effects including pain at the site of injection, headache, fever, chills, joint pain and nausea.
Side effects are said to resolve within a few days of the initial dose and are reportedly significantly milder after the second dose.
This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Monday, 03 May 2021
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