Covid 19 coronavirus: Parents discouraged from seeking childcare staff's vaccination status

By Sophie Trigger

There are no requirements for childcare centres to ensure their staff are vaccinated, nor to disclose this information to parents, education authorities have confirmed.

Children under 12 are currently the only group of New Zealanders who are not eligible to be vaccinated.

There are currently 115 active cases of Covid-19 in children under 10 years of age, with the current outbreak causing more infection in children than has been seen previously.

The Ministry of Education said there was no Government requirement for teachers or childcare workers to be vaccinated, and staff members' vaccination status should not be shared as it is personal medical information.

The Herald has seen a newsletter from a Wellington childcare centre last week, saying it was "inappropriate, and a breach of privacy" for parents or staff to be asked their vaccination status.

A requirement for early childhood workers to be vaccinated can be imposed only on an individual centre level, says Early Childhood Council chief executive Sue Kurtovich.

She said teachers and early childhood workers were not treated differently from any other profession in the guidance around vaccination.

There was no requirement for childcare workers to be vaccinated. Photo / 123rf

"I think it's unlikely at this point that the Government is going to come out hard on teachers and say you must all get vaccinated," she said.

"Which then leaves it up to individual employers to make a decision about after doing a risk assessment whether their organisation is one where certain positions within that organisation should be vaccinated, and then going from there."

She said centres may base this decision on their location in the country, or whether there was a high percentage of border worker's children, for example.

"There won't be a one-size-fits-all for the vaccination question in early childhood, or even in schools," she said.

"There'll be some centres that are already looking into this and looking into the legalities of requiring their staff to be vaccinated – I suspect there are, and that they will be seeking advice around that."

"Because it's potentially a bit of a thorny issue to require that when its untested and there's not a lot of information out there."

New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) President Liam Rutherford said they had received advice from the Ministry of Education around the vaccination of staff members.

He said employers "can ask a staff member whether they have been vaccinated if they have legitimate reason to do so, but staff do not have to disclose their vaccination status".

In the event employees did not disclose their vaccination status, employers "may assume that they are unvaccinated but should inform the staff member of this assumption," Rutherford said.

He said NZEI actively supported the national vaccine rollout, but it was important that no one was discriminated against based on the basis of their vaccination status, or their refusal to confirm their status.

Chilcare centres can reopen at alert level 3 for the children of essential workers. Photo / 123rf

He did not expect parents to be inquiring about the vaccination status of staff members.

"Schools and early learning services would not release that information to their communities and I'd be really surprised if any parents were to think that such a request was appropriate."

Kurtovich said parents may be interested in the vaccination status of the childcare workers who looked after their children.

"It's no different from any other organisation that is front-facing in this way, in that customers, or parents in this case, have an interest in this kind of information.

"But there are employment and privacy issues to consider, no different from anyone else."

Although centres would not disclose this information to parents, she said council recommended they have a plan on how to answer these kinds of questions.

"It's going to come down to the relationship centres have got with their families and their ability to convince families that they are operating in that safe way.

"I'm not sure that I would come out with a bold 'we're not going to tell you anything about this' kind of a statement, but if a parent did ask, you're going to need to have an answer ready."

Childcare centres are able to open at alert level 3 for the children of essential workers.

Cabinet has made an in-principle decision to move Auckland to alert level 3 next week.

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