Christian schools are concerned that NSW’s announcement that all school staff must be vaccinated by 8 November will cause them problems.
“If the staff in Christian schools are representative of the wider population we can expect up to 10% of teachers and other staff to have genuine concerns about vaccination”, said Christian Schools Australia Director of Public Policy, Mark Spencer.
“Christian schools, indeed any schools, will struggle to continue to provide high-quality education if that number of staff refuse to be vaccinated”.
CSA cites a COVID-19 Recovery Tracker report (ORIMA.com.au) at the end of July which indicated that 15% of those unvaccinated don’t intend to get vaccinated, and a further 11% will get vaccinated only if they have to. However, that survey appears to have has been overtaken by events as Australians appear to be much keener than that. NSW is currently at 74 per cent first dose (just about at that survey limit), Tasmania 62.8 and Victoria at 60.8 with vaccine availability a limiting factor. Some Sydney suburbs are now at 85 per cent first dose. Melbourne Institute tracking of vaccine hesitancy had those unwilling to be vaccinated at 11.7 per cent in August.
“Making school staff a priority for vaccination we have fully supported,” Spencer said, “but mandating vaccination is a significant step beyond this”.
“Is the risk to staff and students in a school significantly higher than when they are out shopping or in the broader community?”
“Schools have followed stringent procedures to ensure that schools have been COVIDsafe”, Mr Spencer said, “we are urging the NSW Government to give further consideration to mandatory vaccinations for school staff”.
Eternity asked Spencer what safety measures schools might take. He referred us to the advice of The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) on minimising the potential risk. Their suggested measures included
- encouraging students to maintain 1.5m distance when entering or leaving a classroom
- cancelling school excursions, assemblies, sporting activities and other large gatherings
- where possible, conducting lessons outdoors or in environments with enhanced ventilation
- where possible, arranging classroom furniture to leave as much space as possible between students
- maintaining smaller classes
- suspending group work if the activity cannot be modified to avoid close physical proximity (1.5m)
Some of these will be as difficult to manage, possibly as losing some staff. Study of some outbreaks has shown Ventilation to be critical in classroom settings, and smaller classes have an impact on timetabling or provision of extra spaces. Vaccine mandates or otherwise, re-opening schools especially in places with high caseloads will take great skill.
Meanwhile, Catholic Health Australia (CHA), the peak advisory body for not-for-profit hospitals and aged care, has taken the opposite view. CHA says the mandatory vaccination of health workers against Covid-19 is essential if we are to protect them and the health system in the face of increasing pressure in the coming weeks.
CHA Director of Health Policy James Kemp said: “Vaccinating health care workers is critical to serving the public interest, saving the lives and preserving the health of Australians during this difficult time.
“We are in a pandemic the likes of which we have never seen before. The fast-moving Delta strain is placing an enormous burden on the hospital system and has created a health emergency.
“People that come to our hospitals and aged care services expect to be cared for in an environment that is safe and of minimal risk to their health. Central to that is the need to vaccinate our workforce against Covid – this protects the vulnerable people we care for from harm.”