COVID-19 vaccinations will be mandatory for all South Australian (SA) teachers and education staff, the state Education Minister John Gardner announced on Tuesday.
The move came despite South Australia having recorded only six new cases since mid-October and zero COVID-19 deaths for the past three months.
Under the direction, all volunteers and staff within the state’s schools, including Catholic and independent schools, preschools and early childhood facilities, will have to receive one dose by Dec. 10, the final day of the school term.
Education staff must also prove they have plans to get the second vaccination in early 2022 before the school year begins.
Education Department Chief Executive Rick Persse said workers who refuse the jab, which he expected to be a “tiny fraction,” will have to go on leave from Dec. 11.
He also noted that about 600 out of 30,000 total staff in the Education Department were yet to get vaccinated.
“I appreciate that this decision will be difficult for some, but it is the right call for our state as our borders reopen,” Persse said.
The mandate will also apply to governing council members, building contractors, school bus drivers, and volunteers and employees at out-of-school hours care and vacation care.
The direction does not yet apply to TAFE or universities but does apply to childcare centres on university grounds.
The only people exempted from the mandates are parents who are dropping off or picking up their kids, those with a medical exemption certificate, and incidental visitors or tradies, such as delivery drivers and urgent maintenance workers.
“This will ensure we can keep our children and our education workforce safe, our schools and our preschools and our early childhood settings open,” said Gardner.
“The health advice is very clear that this is necessary to provide the best health outcomes for the people of South Australia.”
South Australia’s Police Commissioner Grant Stevens, who authorised the mandatory vaccination policy, said mandating vaccination across sectors where it currently does not apply, such as hospitality, was not planned at this stage.
“We obviously have discussions about that in transition [committee meetings], and we balance other competing demands within the community,” Stevens said.
Masks would continue to be optional for adults and secondary students, while a new tracing system will be created to help track outbreaks in schools.
From November 23, quarantine requirements will be scaled back as the state prepares to open its borders. However, if someone gets COVID-19, they will still need to isolate for up to 14 days.
But as Australia ramps up its effort to vaccinate all teachers, voices of opposition could be heard from education workers across the country.
In New South Wales, where vaccine mandates have been issued for all school staff, NSW Education Department’s Chief People Officer Yvette Cachia said about 4,900 teachers were yet to provide proof of vaccination to the government by Nov. 2, risking being suspended.
SA Liberal Senator Alex Antic, who previously threatened to withhold his vote until people are given protection from discrimination based upon their vaccination status, told The Advertiser on Nov. 12, people are being “coerced into taking COVID vaccinations against their will.”
“In South Australia, thousands of people are being stood down from their employment because they have elected to exercise their right to refuse the vaccine,” Antic said.
“What is happening is wrong. The federal parliament must act to protect the freedom of Australians to choose their own way of life without interference from government, corporate Australia and bureaucracies with authoritarian tendencies.”