Victoria stands down 420 public school teachers over vaccine mandates

About 420 public school teachers across Victoria have been stood down for failing to meet Covid vaccination requirements – with the majority of them not working because they haven’t received a third dose.

Despite previous fears of staff shortages in schools, Guardian Australia understands there are 420 full-time-equivalent teachers across Victoria’s public school system who are unable to work as they have not met the state’s vaccination mandate.

This means they have been placed on leave without pay and unable to work since the third dose deadline came into effect on 25 March.

Of this figure, Guardian Australia understands that about 240 teachers – or 57% – have not met the requirement because they haven’t received a booster shot.

This is in addition to about 180 teachers who were stood down after failing to receive a first or second dose of a vaccine last year.

Victoria and the Northern Territory are the only jurisdictions that require teachers to be triple-dosed. In New South Wales, unvaccinated teachers will be able to begin working in the state’s schools from mid-May.

The Australian Medical Association Victorian president, Dr Roderick McRae, said the state’s challenges with getting people to have third dose of a Covid vaccine were partly due to “language confusion” over its necessity.

In February, the national immunisation panel shifted its messaging from “fully vaccinated” to urging people to be “up to date” with a third booster shot.

“There’s been information overload in the community. Government insists on using the expression ‘fully vaccinated’ [for two doses] but it’s a complete oxymoron,” McRae said.

“Within healthcare we are aware the third dose has been absolutely, fundamentally crucial in the management of the Omicron variant as the level of protection wanes over time.”

The latest department of health figures show almost 95% of Victorians aged over 12 are double vaccinated. But little over two-thirds – 67.5% – of Victorians aged over 18 have received three doses.

Since the beginning of the year, unvaccinated Victorian teachers have been unable to receive leave entitlements.

In line with Department of Education leave guidelines, employees who failed to meet the March deadline to receive a third dose were placed on unauthorised leave, which will result in termination of employment.

But the exact timing would vary from school to school and depend on how long a teacher had been on unauthorised leave, if they were fixed-term employees, when they had their second Covid vaccination jab and became eligible for a booster.

A department of spokesperson said that as of Tuesday, 99.2% of public school teachers have had three doses of a Covid vaccine and were permitted to attend work.

“We encourage any staff members who have not yet had their third dose to book in to protect themselves, their families and their school communities,” the spokesperson said.

This month, the Victorian government scrapped the seven-day isolation rule for household Covid contacts and loosened other restrictions after the state passed the peak of an Omicron wave.

But unlike NSW, Victoria did not set a date for scrapping its wide-ranging vaccine mandates.

Frontline critical workers such as healthcare employees, education staff and food transport workers require three doses to work in Victoria.

The Victorian Transport Association has opposed the mandate, estimating about 20% of drivers had left the industry due to the vaccine requirement.

The premier, Daniel Andrews, has also flagged the state could end its pandemic declaration in July, which would result in remaining health orders – including vaccine mandates – being scrapped.

Some epidemiologists have called on the state to relax its vaccine mandates. But the Andrews government has argued the mandates have allowed the state to reach its high vaccination rate.

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