Vaccination mandate is being considered for Queensland public service – including teachers, says Deputy Prime Minister

Queensland is one of only two states without a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for teachers and childcare workers as it prepares for a wave of cases of unvaccinated children, with health experts warning that school outbreaks will be “extremely disruptive”.

The vaccination deadline for training staff in New South Wales was November 8 and includes staff at schools, day care centers, kindergartens, family day care and out-of-school care.

Victorian school and childcare workers must receive a double dose by November 29th.

South Australia announced its mandate this week, where all staff and volunteers in schools, day care centers and kindergartens must have their first dose by 10 December.

Tasmania is the only other state or territory that has not implemented a vaccine mandate for teachers and childcare workers, despite one of the country’s leading experts in infectious diseases saying it was “for their own safety”, and Australia’s largest provider of child care enforced one.

Queensland has already mandated COVID-19 vaccination for health, elderly and disabled carers as well as police, hospitality workers and truck drivers entering the state.

Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace has left open the possibility of a mandate for teachers.

“The Palaszczuk government is absolutely committed to protecting Queenslanders through vaccination, and this issue is still under active consideration,” she said.

“We were the first state or territory in Australia to put teachers in the 1b classification, giving them early access to the vaccine, and we know that more than 82,000 vaccinations have been given to school and early childhood staff under this program.”

In a statement, a Queensland Health spokesman said mandatory vaccinations would only be introduced “when deemed necessary to protect vulnerable Queensland residents, including people at risk of developing serious illness and those unable to become vaccinated “.

“We communicate all new or amended public health guidelines, including vaccine mandates, to the sector concerned and the general public once they have been completed.”

Australian children between the ages of five and 11 are unlikely to be vaccinated before January 2022, and there are currently no vaccines being considered for children under the age of five.

Deputy Prime Minister Steven Miles said there would be “more to say in the future” about extending a COVID-19 vaccination mandate to all Queensland civil servants.

“It remains under active consideration,” Mr Miles said on Friday.

School and childcare outbreaks are expected

The University of Sydney, an expert in infectious diseases, Robert Booy, said it was “for their own safety” to order teachers to be vaccinated.

“If you’re in your 30s, you’re four times more likely to get COVID and end up in the hospital than a teenager, ‘he said.

Professor Booy said mandates were “always difficult”.

“They should be done where there is a need for them, where there are people at high risk of getting serious illness, where there is a high risk of transmission,” he said.

“It’s especially important in hospitals, but teachers at this point are a very important group to be vaccinated, to be protected, and to make schools work again.”

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Australian Medical Association of Queensland’s board director Maria Boulton said it was “inevitable” that the Delta tribe would infect unvaccinated people after border restrictions were eased in December.

“We’ve seen it happen before here in July with Indooroopilly [schools] cluster, “she said.

“We know that COVID is spreading among children, and one concern at the moment is that we only vaccinate children aged 12 and over.”

Dr.  Maria Boulton is sitting behind a desk in an operation
AMAQ’s board director, dr. Maria Boulton, said school outbreaks “will be extremely disruptive”. (ABC News: Stuart Bryce)

Dr. Boulton said mandates were “a decision to be discussed by the state government” but that school outbreaks “will be extremely disruptive”.

Schools have been a hotbed of recent outbreaks of coronavirus in New South Wales and Victoria, with pupils quarantined at home, although wider shutdowns have been lifted.

Childcare provider requests Queensland mandate

Australia’s largest provider of childcare, Goodstart Early Learning, has mandated COVID-19 vaccination to its 16,000 employees across the country.

Goodstart head of advocacy John Cherry said about 92 percent of staff were vaccinated with two weeks left until the claim takes effect.

“We know that vaccination of adults is the best way to protect children in our care, and it makes sense to ensure that all of our staff across the country are fully vaccinated,” he said.

Cherry said the company had written to Ms Palaszczuk and “encouraged her” to mandate vaccination for teachers and educators in Queensland.

John Cherry leaned up on the balcony of a Goodstart childcare center.
John Cherry of Goodstart Early Learning said Queensland should follow other states and make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for workers in education and childcare.(ABC News: Dean Caton )

Childcare centers in Queensland will remain open throughout the Christmas period.

Asked why a mandate has not been extended to teachers, Mr Miles said there was “plenty of time” to consider the issue.

“Our focus now is on the non-essential mandates and to see how effective it is in raising our vaccination rates,” he said.

“There will be plenty of time between the end of the semester this year and back to school next year to look at what the vaccination rates among teachers are, what the risk is and then make decisions,” he said.

The teachers’ union is not against a mandate

Queensland Teachers Union (QTU) president Cresta Richardson said the union was pushing for teachers to be prioritized for inoculation in the early stages of vaccine rollout and urged its members to get the vaccine “where they can”.

“We are not against mandatory vaccinations,” she said.

“But it is also really important that if the decision is made to go in the direction of mandatory vaccination, that it is done by supporting health counseling and by the Chief Health Officer.”

President of the Queensland Teachers' Union Cresta Richardson standing on a school balcony.
Queensland Teachers’ Union President Cresta Richardson said many teachers had already been vaccinated.(ABC News: Dean Caton)

Mrs Richardson said teachers are “educated people” and many of them had already been vaccinated.

Miles said that although the Queensland border opens to hotspots earlier than December 17, the spread of COVID in schools this year is unlikely.

“It is likely that it will only be a few days before the end of the term that we begin to see these COVID cases.”

Commonwealth vaccination data released on November 18 showed that 72.09 percent of Queensland residents aged 16 and over were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with 41.76 percent of those aged 12 to 15 receiving the double dose.

In ACT, the rate for that age group is 94.07 per cent.

Need for clarity about close contact and quarantine rules

Both QTU and Goodstart said schools and childcare centers need more information from the government on how COVID-19 outbreaks will be handled.

Recent models from the Doherty Institute on a “test to stay” regime showed that clusters could be managed by testing students every day before school, instead of putting those who have been quarantined at home.

Ms Richardson said schools were already in the process of planning outbreaks.

“The more information that can be given to our schools before the end of the year is absolutely crucial because teachers and school leaders will go back to student-free days,” she said.

Cherry pointed out that even if the school year ends on December 10, childcare centers will be open throughout the holiday season and may have to deal with COVID outbreaks.

“As we move towards higher vaccination rates, we believe the government could look at what has happened in Singapore, the UK and Canada in terms of dealing with close contacts in school and learning environments,” he said.

“I think they could look at trying to get the right balance between ensuring that children can access care and learning and ensuring that society is kept safe.”

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