26 October 2021

A principled stand or misguided posturing? ‘No jab, no job’ poses tough questions

| Ian Bushnell
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Rob Kans

Charnwood-Dunlop School principal Rob Lans appears in the video alongside One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts. Image: Screenshot.

An ACT school principal’s stand against mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 for school staff has thrown the spotlight on the growing number of ‘no jab, no job’ orders across the public and private sectors.

Charnwood-Dunlop School principal Rob Lans appeared with One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts in a video posted on an anti-vaccination Facebook page.

Mr Lans spoke out against the public health order, saying it was coercive and violated his right to choose whether he is vaccinated or not.

The Education Directorate has since told parents that Mr Lans won’t be returning to school this week but “will be taking some time out of the workplace”.

READ MORE ACT public school principal attacks vaccine mandate alongside One Nation senator

While Mr Lans may have been unwise to connect himself with One Nation and the fringe anti-vaxxer group that hosted the video, his situation should concern anyone who professes to uphold civil liberties and human rights.

Vaccination is a medical intervention that, like most of them, is not risk-free, but comes down to a balance of risks and benefits. There are adverse events. It just comes down to whether the overall benefits outweigh them.

In the case of COVID-19, it is clear that without a defined treatment for the virus, vaccines are the best bet to control the pandemic and break the chain of debilitating lockdowns and social restrictions that have crippled societies and their economies across the world.

The death toll, ongoing illness and economic cost make for a compelling argument for vaccination, and it is understandable governments and businesses want to limit the risk of more damage.

In the ACT, the government understandably wants to protect higher-risk categories, such as children under 12 who cannot yet be vaccinated.

This risk management is colliding with the minority of people who feel they should have the right to take their chances and manage their own health.

It is an extension of the ‘no jab, no play’ controversy that embroiled child care settings, but on a broader scale.

Some governments have also adopted the requirements for vaccine passports or certificates to move freely about or receive services, something Chief Minister Andrew Barr has fiercely resisted.

He argues that it is too big a step to take to limit a person’s human rights, raises too many legal and compliance questions and that such actions have the potential to become permanent.

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The same could be said of vaccine mandates, although at least in the ACT, there appears to be leeway for exemptions or redeployment to manage those who cannot comply for whatever reasons.

The ACT Human Rights Commission says public health directions around vaccine mandates should be based in legislation accompanied by a statement about its compatibility with human rights.

“It’s a very substantial limitation of rights to subject workforces to mandatory vaccination, so we would prefer that [in] legislative amendments,” Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs told Budget estimates last week.

The mandates, time-limited though they may be, are infringements on our civil liberties that provide precedents for governments to interfere in the lives of its citizens, not so much a conspiracy as the good intentions that proverbially pave the road to hell.

Such coercive directions or laws should not be entered into lightly. They need to be framed carefully, have strict time limits, defined purposes and have the legislative guard-rails that prevent them from spreading into other areas of life.

The ACT’s mandates are tied to public health directions and will lapse with them, and Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman has said that when children are vaccinated it will be unlikely there will be a need for the schools one.

Dissident views such as those expressed by Mr Lans need to be respected and their proponents not vilified. They do not need to lose their employment and careers because of a principled or misguided stand, depending on your viewpoint.

The normalisation of coercive laws should not be entertained, just as the ongoing limits to our freedoms from anti-terror laws should not be accepted simply because the government wants to keep us safe.

It is hoped Mr Lans can return to his school when the situation has calmed and the ACT moves to some kind of normal with a vaccination rate close to 100 per cent.

If we can’t live with the 1 per cent who aren’t vaccinated, then the notion of living with the virus is meaningless.

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We can’t hide from a virus and although vaccination mitigates the effect on yourself, it doesn’t stop you getting it, or passing it on. So best to get yourself vaccinated to protect yourself, but insisting on others being vaccinated to protect yourself is a dubious proposition.
If a few people don’t want to protect yourselves and the majority of the population is vaccinated then there is no need to force a vaccination mandate, with all its privacy and civil rights complications.
There are media reports about a 40 year old actress, Melle Stewart, who had a stroke after an AstraZeneca vaccine and had to spend weeks in hospital learning to talk and walk again. In Australia, the risk of dying from TTS after vaccination is approximately one in a million, the TGA says. People who have had adverse reactions to a vaccination in the past have legitimate reasons to be wary.
While all vaccines carry this small risk of serious life-threatening reactions, those who decline vaccination should not be pressured, ridiculed and abused on social media or threatened with exclusion and penalties. We didn’t have a flu vaccination mandate before Covid and there is no need for one now. Also think about the impracticalties of requiring, monitoring and enforcing annual booster shots given that we now know these vaccines have limited efficacy.

It’s a much higher risk of blood clots with catching Covid than from the vaccine. In ICU I have read about 30% get a blood clot. To put some perspective on the risk, women on HRT apparently have a higher risk of blood clots than from the vaccine.

Unvaccinated people affect everyone, because they increase the risk of variants forming. This is another reason why poor countries must be helped to vaccinate their populations.

HiddenDragon7:44 pm 26 Oct 21

“If we can’t live with the 1 per cent who aren’t vaccinated, then the notion of living with the virus is meaningless.”

Very well said, even if our vaccination rates are slightly over-stated due to mistakenly recorded cross-border servicing and/or an under-estimate of the true population level of the ACT.

People who are outraged that Mr Lans has not been summarily dismissed (and, perhaps, publicly drawn and quartered, just to remove any doubt) should stay at home with the doors and windows sealed until we have vaccines which are 100% effective in stopping illness and transmission, and which never wane in efficacy.

The news-worthy aspect of this story is that someone who would publicly associate with a One Nation Senator has risen to the level of principal in the ACT public schools system. That’s almost like Canberra’s equivalent of the British royal family discovering that Anthony Blunt, supremo of the royal art collection, was a Soviet double agent.

Almost as interesting is the news today about concerns over a relatively low vaccination rate in the Inner North – curiouser and curiouser.

Why is the inner north Vaccination rate surprising?

There’s a higher proportion of younger adults in the area who were amongst the last to become eligible for vaccination.

Not really curious at all.

But they are NOT taking just ‘their chances’ they are behaving as if they are more important than anyone else.

This opinion piece is an annoying follow up to the reader response to the original article in order to provoke further interest.
Two key issues…
1. With COVID we are all in this together. The public good is critical to keep children under 12 years safe. This is a no brainer and anti-vaxers clearly have scant regard for the safety of our children while reaping the benefits of 99% of the Canberra population, who are willing to get vaccinated.
2. Do we really want to inflame the issue of individual rights with conspiracy about the privacy of our health records. We could take individual rights to the extreme and end up like the US, where placing individual rights above the common good means that school massacres are common and result in inaction.
Anti-vaxers certainly have the right to choose, however they must take responsibility for their decision and isolate from our vulnerable citizens.

Let’s not forget the WHS laws which employers are required to comply with. The education directorate has an obligation to keep Mr Lans safe (this is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated), together with the staff and school community.

ChrisinTurner2:29 pm 25 Oct 21

I wouldn’t want my child to go to a school where the Principal doesn’t believe in evidence-based science or the rights of others to avoid infection and possible death. What other freedoms does he believe in? The freedom to drive on his own choice side of the road? In principle our freedom to do what we like applies only if it does not adversely affect others. I still have my little orange UN Vaccination book that was, for years, mandatory for overseas travel. No book, no travel. I now worry about the selection criteria for school Principals.

Andrew McCredie1:19 pm 25 Oct 21

I would expect a principal to support conventional, fact based learning and to caution against finding ‘alternative realities’ on the internet. Of course in a democratic society we should tolerate all kinds of strange beliefs, but there is a reasonable expectation that school principals do not lend their authority to encourage credulity and undermine an understanding of science and the scientific method.

This coomrnt only applies to those who choose not to be vaccinated, not those who can’t be or don’t have access to a vaccination. So, personally I have no issue “with the minority of people who feel they should have the right to take their chances and manage their own health” as long as they keep away from every other person who also has a right to be safe and not exposed to the unvaccinated. That would of course apply to every one of their relatives too. If you don’t want to be vaccinated fine, but you don’t have the right to expose others. Maybe wear a sign so everyone has a choice whether they want you anywhere near them.

Geez, fair few issues with this article.
1. This “1%” claim. We currently have no way of knowing how many teachers are antivax. The ACT keeps regurgitating the “97% of teachers polled”. This deeply misleading comment does not confirm how many teachers were polled, or how many completed the survey vs how many dropped out. To assume 97% or 99% of teachers are vaxxed is based on nothing but confusion and hope. It could be 80% or 55%. We don’t know.
2. These “coercive” laws have been fine for decades, with jabs required and/or provided for millions of people annually.
3. Dissident views should never be accepted when they are based on nothing. We’re talking about science. The idea that ‘balance’ should be respected when it’s scientists vs non-scientists is trickery, and the antivax spreaders know it. I would have thought that the climate ‘debate’ had made this clear.
4. This ‘medical exemption’ rubbish. Actual exemptions apply to less than 0.5% of people, who have had an anaphylactic reaction to previous jabs (with 3 jabs to choose from, everyone can avoid the specific allergen), or organ transplant recipients on immune-suppressors. These are the only groups.
5. Rob Lans career choice. He chose to work in schools, but now says he doesn’t want the jab. He fails a basic character test.
6. COVID jabs reduce transmission by 60%. Getting jabbed doesn’t just save your life, it saves others, just like whooping cough jabs for adults saves babies. Do we want to wind-up that program too?

I am profoundly disappointed that such an ill-argued and facile piece is published in the Riot-Act. How does the author feel about drink-driving laws? Or any laws that prohibit egregious harm to others? The shock, the SHOCK of such an infringement of human rights (sic) to forbid – under pain of criminal prosecution – knocking back as many drinks as I want and then driving wherever I want, as fast as I want. I want to manage my OWN alcohol intake. To hell with the damage I cause to others, to society. In fact, in the privacy of my home (or an unstarted car) I *do* have the right to assert control (or lack of it) of my alcohol intake. But when I start the car and drive, yes, there are rules, and consequences. I find it appalling in this type of apologia to hear the term ‘civil’ rights without due consideration of what ‘civil and civic responsibility’ entails. To be part of society, we must agree to limit the harm we do to others. To maintain and advance society takes willingness to compromise on selfish narcissism. The premise of libertarianism and its ultimate manifestation is that the strong (the armed, the vicious) will prevail and those who seek the common good or who depend upon it, must not.

Vaccination isn’t about YOU (or this nominal educator), its about all of us. Simply answer the response about drink driving. You clearly must support it, for < 1% of the population who abuse alcohol and insist driving impose no risk for the rest of us?

“If we can’t live with the 1 per cent who aren’t vaccinated, then the notion of living with the virus is meaningless.”

It isn’t going to be 1% whilst children under 12 can’t be Vaccinated, so you’re talking theoretically about when a vaccine suitable for children might be available.

And whilst children generally don’t catch or transmit COVID as much as adults and don’t get as sick, they are still at risk and create a risk for the adults that surround them as well.

The schools and the government have a duty of care to protect the students, all those who work at the school as well as their wider school communities.

So until we have better treatments for Covid or its impacts reduce, a vaccination mandate in schools is sensible.

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