Childcare workers exempt from ‘no jab no play’
Experts are calling for governments to make it mandatory for childcare workers to have the flu shot after educators were quietly dropped from national advice to make 'no jab no pay' compulsory.
While the coronavirus crisis prompted the federal government to enforce the influenza vaccine for aged care workers, News Corp Australia has been told the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee's initial advice to childcare providers was staff and parents would not be allowed to enter a childcare centre without having had the flu shot but it was quickly amended to a recommendation.
Aggravating the issue is a severe shortage of influenza vaccinations with some councils having to do a public call out to secure supplies to vaccinate their childcare staff and national childcare chain G8, which has hundreds of centres across the country, forced to move in an in-house process.
News Corp Australia understands the advice was amended after concerns from state governments and the sector about the cost, the logistic difficulties of enforcing the plan, as well as problems securing supply.
But leading vaccination advocates say young children who cannot get the flu shot rely on adult's immunity and that governments should urgently reconsider as Australia heads into winter, with the double header of potential flu and COVID-19.
While the popular No Jab, No Play policy requires children attending a centre to be vaccinated, that vaccination schedule does not include influenza - and it does not requires workers to meet the same requirements.
With a large number of childcare workers on temporary visas, infectious disease epidemiologist Professor Paul Van Buynder said there should be an obligation for centres to ensure their workers have received the same vaccination schedule as the children they look after.
"This is something that we've failed to get a national response to because it comes under state legislation. But there is absolutely no doubt these are major danger issues for young children from a whole range of vaccine preventable diseases," he said.
"We do need to do it and we need to do it now. This is the time because we have a whole lot of national groups meeting on an almost continuous basis. We should be saying to childcares - this is part of your WorkSafe requirements. Everybody has to be vaccinated and you have to provide that."
Children under six months are not able to have the flu shot and mother of three Kendall Marriott was forced to confront the reality of what influenza can do to a tiny body when her 10-week-old baby Ivy caught the flu last year.
Now she is a staunch believer in flu jabs and said childcare workers should have to receive a jab.
"We were very lucky," she said.
"Getting the flu shot is something we will do every year now and there are a lot of babies who do go into care - childcare workers should definitely have it and they should want to."
But CEO of Early Childhood Australia Samantha Page said following the lead of aged care workers and making flu jabs mandatory for educators would be logistically very difficult, especially with services already keeping track of first aid certificates and child protection training.
"It is a large and diverse workforce and I think potentially there would need to be a conversation with the workforce around this before we declare it mandatory."
Children Hospital Westmead's Associate Professor Nicholas Wood said flu shots were critical for frontline workers but stopped short of saying they should be enforced.
"I think if it is made easier for people to get and is strongly recommended, that is probably the best way to go initially."
He confirmed there were severe shortages in the private market but expected more would be available in June.
Kim Sampson, CEO of the Immunisation Coalition said the move to make flu shots compulsory for aged care workers signals the government is warming to the idea.
"Anyone that is caring for another human being needs to be able to have a duty of care to make sure they don't infect the person," he said,
"The fact that children under five now can be vaccinated that does now protect them but up until six months it is others that have to be vaccinated to protect the child."
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the changing advice did not constitute a directive and that there was nothing mandating the influenza vaccine but News Corp Australia has been told the AHPPC did amend the advice.
"They did change their position on it," a person close to the process, said.
"It was confusing."
G8 Education, which has more than 10,000 childcare workers across the country said they have had to move to in-centre flu vaccinations.
"The moment we encountered supply challenges we began an urgent search for an alternate method to efficiently and safely administer the vaccine," said Managing Director Gary Carroll.
"We were able to source sufficient vaccine from our supplier. We are strongly encouraging vaccination in line with the Government's recommendation for essential workers."
Originally published as Childcare workers exempt from 'no jab no play'