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Review of School Vaccination Policies

Since the legal requirement for SA school staff to be “fully” vaccinated was rescinded on 31 March 2022, the medical advice around COVID protective practices has continued to become less and less restrictive in SA and around the country. State of emergency powers are being wound back with SA’s being rescinded in March 2022. All the states that declared a state of emergency at the start of the pandemic will have formally lifted that order by the end of October

Although disease and mortality rates remain stubbornly high, society is learning to live with COVID and the World Health Organisation has pronounced that “the end is in sight” for the pandemic.

This means that the catalysts that prompted schools to develop their own policies in place of the rescinded government mandate are not necessarily still relevant or appropriate.

SA was the first to rescind the blanket vaccine mandate for schools, with the rest of the country following suit mostly around June. Tasmania did not ever have a vaccine mandate for non-government schools. No schooling sector in any state currently has a vaccination mandate policy – not Government, Catholic, Lutheran nor Independent. Only a few individual interstate independent schools have gone down this path. SA is now the odd one out having sector and site specific policies.

As SA was the first to rescind the school mandate, it was understandable that there would be a nervousness about moving too far too quickly and separate school employers contemplated having their own mandates enshrined in school policy.

Staff “consultation” at the time of rescinding was statistically flawed, as a bias was introduced when opinions about vaccination were sought from the remaining vaccinated staff. However the mood of the time was different and coming out of the mandate, the universal staff status was “vaccinated”.

A range of responses and timeframes for policies were adopted. The Department for Education did a quick staff consultation resulting in unvaccinated staff being allowed back with extra restrictions. The Catholic sector after consultation pushed ahead with their preferred option to not allow unvaccinated staff back. An August review date was set and ignored. Other schools took a more ambulatory approach with some schools still formulating an initial policy to this day, and others deciding early that there would be no form of vaccination mandate.

One must question how urgent the problem was for those schools that took so long. Marketing optics may have been the prime motivator rather than any urgent WHS or public health issue.

The early movers moved in response to the imperatives of the time and now that policies are being reviewed, are in the same position as any schools still thinking about it.

Now that it is no longer unlawful to work in an SA school whilst unvaccinated, it would be a disproportionately severe restriction to prohibit employment of a suitably qualified, but unvaccinated person. The state-wide mandate was rescinded on medical advice for everyone in schools. Any school-based policy requiring vaccination is at odds with the public health position.

There is no sensible concept of gaining a local “medical exemption” from a requirement which does not exist at large. Schools must not put themselves in a position of having to evaluate medical reasons advanced by unvaccinated staff when schools are not qualified to make those (or any) medical decisions.

Initially the IEU sought and eventually obtained an evidence-based rationale for maximising vaccination, by mandate if necessary.  This was ignoring the inconvenient fact that there was no mandate for student vaccination. The IEU went with the advice and did not object if the school community had been appropriately consulted.

We are now in a period where vaccination is a free choice for school staff and no justification for the choice is needed either way. In fact it is irrelevant to employment and no information or evidence of vaccination should be sought or retained.

We are no longer doing contact tracing. Isolation and mask mandates are greatly reduced as the disease, and society’s coping mechanisms, adapt.

Yes – up-to-date vaccination is a good thing. As are all the other COVID-safe behaviours, but the era of vaccination mandates has passed its use-by date in schools. The genie is out of the bottle.

If complying with a vaccination mandate to work in schools was likely to have a significant effect on either general or local transmission then to “sell” that personal freedom may “buy” a reasonable benefit. Our social contract has us selling a right to do or not do something in exchange for some greater good. With vaccination mandates the benefit purchased is probably more illusionary than real. Not a good deal.

The IEU would advise members and schools that there is no longer a need for any vaccination policies in schools, and that vaccinated and unvaccinated staff should be allowed to work side by side without distinction.

Glen Seidel