Given the importance that vaccination now plays in Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact on Australian adult and community education (ACE) providers, CCA has collated a selection of recent news and analysis on vaccination and COVID-19 impacts relevant for adult and community education providers, and the VET sector more broadly. Please contact CCA via email if you have any suggestions as to items to include in upcoming COVID-19 impact post-secondary education updates.
First, the Good News
NSW COVID-19 vaccination rate among world’s fastest as first milestone nears, reports the ABC – almost 1% of the NSW population each day, writes Catherine Bennett in the Sydney Morning Herald. The state set a new record on 27 August, vaccinating more than 156,000 residents, equivalent to 2% of the population in just one day. Victorian rates have also surged, with a standout being Indigenous vaccinations in the state. Australian vaccination rates have improved markedly in recent months, especially in New South Wales.
Compulsory Vaccination for Australian Post-Secondary Education?
Is compulsory vaccination coming to Australian post-secondary education, asks CCA CEO, Dr Don Perlgut, in an opinion article reprinted by Campus Review. Dr Perlgut details how more than 800 (to date) American colleges and universities have mandated vaccinations for students and staff in the coming northern autumn semester.
The article notes that Australia already has a significant list of medical vaccination mandates including: “The ‘no jab, no play’ policy removes entitlements and childcare subsidies from unvaccinated families; aged care and health workers are required to be protected from most diseases, including receiving annual influenza shots; arrivals in Australia have to hold an international vaccination certificate [in some circumstances]; and plumbers have to be up to date on their Hepatitis B vaccinations.”
The NSW Government announced on 7 August that construction workers from COVID-19 southwest Sydney “hotspots” could work if they meet certain vaccination conditions, which may set a precedent for other industries. We are likely to see more calls for compulsory vaccination in coming months.
The CCA article encourages VET providers to prepare for the future through modifications to classrooms and training environments, especially improving ventilation to prevent COVID spread as well as other respiratory illnesses. Read the full article here.
Australian Education Vaccination Guidance, Mandates and Lockdown Updates
The NSW Government has mandated vaccination for all primary and secondary school staff from 8 November and has identified a staggered return of students to face-to-face learning to begin on Monday 25 October. The NSW Government has summarised details on vaccination mandates, including education.
The Victorian Government has followed suit mandating that all school staff must be fully vaccinated by the end of November to continue working in Victorian schools. The Victorian government has also mandated COVID vaccinations for an estimated 1.25 million of the state’s 3.5 million workers, an order that “applies to all ‘authorised providers’ and ‘authorised workers’ whose work requires contact with others.” This includes a large number of adult and community education activities.
La Trobe University has become the first university in Australia to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for students and staff as a condition of being allowed on to its campus from early December. “Time for universities to do the right thing and mandate the jab,” writes Tim Dodd in The Australian (21 September).
NSW training: Read a summary of COVID-19 Training Services NSW guidance and instructions for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) in the state.
Xavier College, a Melbourne Catholic boys’ school, has told staff they must vaccinate against COVID-19 before the beginning of term 4, the first move by a Victorian school to mandate the jab for its staff.
Economists Speak Out
“We need to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the challenge of getting Australians vaccinated because of the costs of falling short on vaccinations are huge,” says Danielle Wood of the Grattan Institute, part of a survey of 60 leading Australian economists. There is a big difference between getting 75% and 80% of people vaccinated, Ms Wood says.
Almost all (90%) of the economists favour a “clear and compelling” national advertising campaign; 85% endorse vaccine passports for higher risk settings such as flights, restaurants and major events; and 81.7% support mandatory vaccination for higher risk occupations.
Vaccine hesitancy is greatest in “individuals who live in disadvantaged areas, those who tend to have more populist views or have higher levels of religiosity or lower levels of household income, and those individuals who display less confidence in their state or territory government, are less likely to get vaccinated, says Elisabetta Magnani, summarising an ANU study on Australian attitudes.
Vaccine passports: “We aren’t ready, as a society, for the arrival of vaccine passports. But unless the current outbreak is brought under control soon, we may have no choice,” writes economist John Quiggin in Inside Story.
Aged Care and Child Care
COVID-19 vaccinations now mandatory for aged care students: The Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) has asked CCA to remind RTOs that students are included in Mandatory Vaccination of Aged Care Workers, which implements the National Cabinet decision to mandate that at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by mid-September 2021 for all residential aged care workers, irrespective of age. All primary care clinics are expected to make a vaccination appointment for residential aged care workers within seven days of a request. All residential aged care workers are eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Students may use the eligibility checker to check the availability of local appointments. Further information available on the Department of Health website.
Aged care vaccinations: “More than 40% of aged care workers – about 110,000 people – are yet to get their first shot. Under the original roll-out plan every aged care resident and worker was going to be vaccinated by early April,” reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
Early childhood and childcare: The NSW Public Health Orders were changed on 20 August to ensure that all workers in the early childhood education, childcare and disability sectors are vaccinated for COVID-19. Workers must receive their first vaccination by 30 August 2021. This effectively means that all VET students of childcare and early childhood education will need to be vaccinated.
Impact on ACE students: CCA notes that aged care and childcare students may comprise up to half of NSW and VIC ACE accredited VET enrolments, so compulsory vaccination in these industries will impact a large number of the ACE sector’s students, even without any further mandatory requirements added, which are likely.
Vulnerable groups: “Opening the country at 80% without ensuring [vulnerable] groups have met or exceeded those targets will result in substantial avoidable illness and death. First Nations Australians, disabled Australians, prisoners and people living in rural and remote Australia have much higher levels of chronic conditions, which have their roots in social and economic disadvantage,” writes Anne Kavanagh and others in The Conversation.
Indigenous Australians: Vaccinations need to reach 90-95% of First Nations adults and teens to protect vulnerable communities, reports The Conversation. “A blanket lifting of restrictions when the vaccination rate reaches 70% will have devastating effects on Indigenous and other vulnerable populations.”
People with a disability: The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has found “the conduct of the vaccine rollout, especially to people living in residential disability settings and disability support workers was ‘seriously deficient’”, undertaken without consulting the disability sector. This is highly relevant to Australian ACE providers, which have more than 20% of government-funded VET students with stated disability, a figure that we know to be an undercount by at least 5%.
90% target: “My challenge to the NSW community is let’s get to 90% … and let’s also work across our most disadvantaged communities to make sure nobody is left behind, as we strive to have the most equitable distribution of vaccine of any country in the world.” – NSW Chief Medical Officer Dr Kerry Chant, 12 September 2021
Leaving vulnerable behind: “NSW risks setting a national reopening precedent that leaves vulnerable people behind, with social services groups warning the double vaccination target of 70% could mask inequity in low-income communities. Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) said it has been unable to access an income bracket breakdown highlighting vaccination rates of the poorest groups, despite multiple requests,” reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
People with disabilities: “Just over a quarter of Australians in the NDIS are fully vaccinated, behind the national average – despite being in the highest priority groups,” reports the Sydney Morning Herald. Especially relevant to ACE sector, as we achieve the highest percentage of involvement of people with disabilities than any other post-secondary sector in Australia.
Indigenous Australia: Fatal Contact – How Epidemics Nearly Wiped Out Australia’s First Peoples is a new book by Peter Dowling, which examines the devastating infectious disease epidemics which were introduced into the Indigenous populations of Australia after the arrival of British colonists in 1788. “The COVID-19 crisis in western NSW Aboriginal communities is a nightmare realised,” writes Bhiamie Williamson in The Conversation.
Digital divide: The “pandemic has highlighted the digital divide in Australia, and showed more than ever the need for people to have basic digital skills and affordable access to technology,” reports the Good Things Foundation.
Excluding the most vulnerable from COVID payments isn’t just cruel – it jeopardises public health, writes Alison Pennington in The Guardian.
COVID-19 Vaccinations and the Workplace Employer Guide (PDF), from Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and AuSAE, to “help you and your business navigate the Australian COVID-19 vaccine rollout in an ever-changing landscape.”
Ventilation and Building Improvements
A ventilation ‘revolution’ is needed to speed up Australia’s path out of lockdown, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. It “could reduce the need for stay-at-home orders, prevent widespread COVID-19 infection and boost the economy by billions of dollars by stamping out the common cold and flu.” The Sunday Age says that “buildings including restaurants, schools, homes, apartment buildings and offices continue to be the highest-risk locations for disease spread, and many Victorian classrooms – the site for several recent outbreaks – have air quality 2½ times worse than recommended.”
Educators want plan to keep schools open, including ventilation and testing, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. “Education experts want a national plan for ventilating schools and testing teachers as communities learn to live with the coronavirus, with doctors backing calls for teachers to be vaccinated as a priority.” The plan should also “identify and fund the infrastructure needs to allow schools to accommodate for social distancing, hygiene, ventilation and any other public health measures”.
The NSW Government has issued advice on ventilation to reduce any potential spread of COVID-19 and to keep NSW communities safe. However, public health experts say they are concerned the NSW Department of Education does not plan to use air purifiers in classrooms and have called for more action on indoor ventilation before schools return.
Living with the virus means improving building ventilation, according to an article in The Atlantic. “After all we’ve done to prevent the spread of disease through water and insects, we seem to have overlooked something. We overlooked air…. Evidence has made clear that the tiny virus-laden particles indeed linger in the air of poorly ventilated areas.”
Professor Lidia Morawska (pictured, from QUT in Brisbane), has been hailed by Time magazine in its “100 most influential people in the world” issue, for her work in “assembling a team of more than 200 scientists and public-health authorities to recognise the role of aerosols in spreading SARS-CoV-2 and change how we measure and lessen our risk of contracting the virus.”
Australia lags behind other countries on rolling out air filtration systems in schools to help prevent the virus running rampant through unvaccinated children, experts say. We are failing to heed ‘paradigm change’.
Opening Windows Is a Key to Reopening Schools, says the New York Times. View this ventilation animation, based on a real public school classroom in New York City.
The National Vaccination Debates
90% vaccination coverage of both adults and children drives the time in lockdown down to zero, says the COVID-19 Pandemic Trade-Offs report from Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, by Professor Tony Blakely and others.
When is it safe to end lockdowns: “The Morrison government insists that present lockdown restrictions will be substantially eased when 70% of the adult population is vaccinated and then removed at 80%. But continuing suppression of the virus will also require much lower caseloads before governments open up. Lockdowns … damage our sense of well-being and the economy. However, the present lockdowns are there for a purpose. Without these lockdowns the spread of the virus would have been much worse. In the UK, for example, with more than twice the Australian vaccination rate, their COVID caseload since they lifted all restrictions has escalated to 13.5 times higher than the Australian rate as a proportion of the population, while the UK death rate is 50 times higher. The critical question therefore is when will it be safe to remove the present lockdowns, and what other measures might still be required?” – Michael Keating, in The Conversation, 9 September 2021
80% vaccination is the key, says the Grattan Institute, in its report Race to 80: our best shot at living with COVID. Grattan modelling shows that once 80% of the population is vaccinated – and 95% of the most vulnerable, including the over-70s – Australia can safely begin to “live with COVID”. At 80%, COVID would be in the community, but severe cases would be rare. Opening up too early – for example at 50%, or 70% — would risk rampant spread of the virus and hospitals being overwhelmed.
80% vaccination is too low – we need 90%: A team of experts has said Australia’s National Plan to relax COVID-19 restrictions puts too many lives at risk and could hamper thousands more Australians with ongoing illness. The researchers from ANU, UWA and University of Melbourne argue that at least 90% of all Australians, including children, must be vaccinated against COVID-19 before fully relaxing public health measures and opening the international border. Read a news summary or read the full report here.
Support employers: “The government should support employers to require vaccinations of their workforces. That means putting in place public health orders that remove as much legal risk as possible, and clearly outline its expectations regarding vaccination mandates in critical industries. It simply cannot be left to businesses to navigate the legal minefield when it comes to keeping their workers and customers safe.”- Ehssan Veiszadeh, Deputy CEO, The Committee for Sydney
Pandemic politics presents a simple question: who can deliver the least awful death toll? asks Bernard Keane in Crikey. “Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian want us to believe the relatively benign scenario painted by the Doherty Institute is what awaits us on reopening. But there are other, far worse scenarios,” he writes. “This political game unfolding between risk-averse Labor premiers and Berejiklian and Morrison, who have given up trying to suppress COVID, has very real stakes. If the Doherty Institute is right, ‘only’ 1500-odd people will die when we reopen with 70% vaccinations — a figure just three to four times higher than the death toll from seasonal flu. If other, gloomier predictions are correct, hospitals will be overwhelmed, and the death toll will run into the tens of thousands.”
There is no “freedom day” under Doherty Institute modelling, says Dr Norman Swan on the ABC Radio’s Coronacast (25 August). Instead, are a large number of inter-related factors that will see restrictions lifted carefully and gradually.
The Doherty report is being misrepresented by both the Prime Minister and the NSW Premier, writes Matt Barrie. The report is neither an economic model nor does it set any targets, and the Australian public is being fed nonsense as the country heads to “irreversible” decisions.
This is a three-dose vaccine, says Dr Norman Swan on Coronacast (3 September), and our national target really should be around 90% population coverage, to make up for many of the disadvantaged groups that may have difficulty reaching the specified 80%.
Other Public Health Measures
Masks are here to stay, says Dr Michael Lydeamore. “They’re a relatively low-impost intervention …. at least until we’re in a situation where we’re very confident we’re not going to have a big surge of cases, the masks are going to hang around in these closed settings.”
Lockdown impact: “One of the many simplistic stupidities peddled in this country over the past year has been that economic downturns are caused by lockdowns. Increasingly, the evidence points to the main cause of downturns being fear: with or without lockdowns, people tend to stay home if they think that venturing out has a reasonable chance of causing death…. Reopenings do not inevitably give the economy a boost,” writes Sean Kelly in the Sydney Morning Herald.
We are in a recession: “More than half our citizens are confined to their homes. Jobs have vapourised. Businesses are shutting. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live in a recession, well, this is it.” – Jessica Irvine, in the Sydney Morning Herald.
What’s Happening Overseas
A lot, but here are a few useful insights.
NYC Teacher mandatory vaccination: New York City will require all Department of Education employees to have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by 27 September, Mayor Bill de Blasio, according to the New York Times. “The city’s vaccine requirement, which applies to roughly 148,000 education workers, is also almost certain to be a harbinger of future mandates around the country for school districts, municipal employees, private businesses and federal government agencies in the days and weeks to come.”
Los Angeles School District, the second largest in the USA, is to become the first major school district in the US to mandate coronavirus vaccines for students 12 and older who are attending class in person.
President Biden plans to get two-thirds of the American work force vaccinated against the coronavirus, including private sector employees, health care workers and federal contractors — as well as the vast majority of federal workers, who could face disciplinary measures if they refuse. Read the official White House statement here. The US vaccination mandate responds to problems which aren’t major barriers to vaccine uptake in Australia, reports The Conversation. “There are additional important pathways to increasing vaccination rates that can foster trust in the health-care system. These have proved difficult in the US, but are available in Australia – Targeted outreach in the form of clinics and bespoke persuasive communications are needed for poorly reached communities.”
The Coronavirus Is Here Forever. This Is How We Live With It, writes Sarah Zhang in The Atlantic. We can’t avoid the virus for the rest of our lives, but we can minimise its impact.
Watch the UK to understand how Delta behaves, also writes Sarah Zhang in The Atlantic. That country lifted all its COVID-19 restrictions just as Delta peaked. What happens next will tell us how well vaccines are working.
How the Groundhog Day grind of lockdown scrambles your memory and sense of time: “In lockdown, the events we experience all have more or less the same context. If you’re spending almost all your time in your house, it’s harder to pinpoint individual memories of the things that happened there. It’s like doing a Google search where everything matches your search terms,” writes Adam Osth in The Conversation.
Video Promotions of Vaccination
Australian Government video campaigns can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health website.
Many people speak highly of the latest Qantas advertisement, but our current favourite comes from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. We are also fans of the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) Back to The Good Things promotion.