Some government areas are lagging behind the rest of the state in vaccination rates, here’s what we know about how this affects the UniSA community. (Image source: Shuttershock)

By Helen Karakulak | @helen_karakulak & Ashleigh Buck | @ashkbuck

As South Australia prepares to open state borders on November 23, concerns are being raised regarding the vaccine rates of certain areas falling short of the statewide double vaccination target.

According to local data projections, 30 local government areas (LGAs) are not expected to reach the targets of 80 per cent of their population fully vaccinated before the borders reopen.

Compiled by SA data scientist Ben Moretti and published by InDaily, the projections revealed the LGAs that are home to UniSA’s City West, City East and Magill campuses are expected to exceed the 80 per cent vaccination milestone.

Also promising, Mount Gambier, home to one of UniSA’s regional campuses, was reported to have approximately 73 per cent of the population fully vaccinated by November 3, with 95 per cent of residents having at least one dose.

However, the City of Salisbury, the LGA which homes the Mawson Lakes campus, is projected to not pass the 80 per cent milestone for their over 16 population by November 23, instead likely having vaccination rates around 70 per cent at that time.

Due to the LGAs of Salisbury and Playford lagging behind, SA Health have been urged to extend vaccination hub hours.

Whyalla, home to UniSA’s other regional campus, is also not due to reach 80 per cent population vaccinated by November 23.

A recent survey conducted by the University of South Australia indicated the vaccination rate of UniSA students may fall short of the state’s goal to reach 90 per cent of the population fully vaccinated before Christmas, which is needed to fully relax remaining COVID-19 restrictions.

The university’s survey was conducted to assess the community’s level of vaccination, receive feedback regarding the possibility of requiring vaccines in the future, and gauge overall awareness of vaccine requirements already in place.

Of the 5500 respondents, 81 per cent of UniSA students and 94 per cent of staff are fully, partially or intending to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

UniSA’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor David Lloyd’s email to all staff and students said the current vaccination rate “bodes very well for the protection of our university” as we expect community transmission once our state borders reopen.

“I commend those among you who have rolled up their sleeves to date – your actions take us closer to that 90 per cent number and to a future where we will be living with Covid, but without fear or restriction,” he says.

Currently, some university activities require mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, such as if it is a requirement of your placement provider.

Mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations are also required for staff working in the UniSA Medical and Allied Health Clinics and Clinical Trials Facility. This follows the state government Emergency Management (COVID-19) (Healthcare Setting Worker Vaccination) Direction 2021, which came into effect on October 7.

At this stage, UniSA has not mandated vaccinations for on-campus attendance, but the survey found 63 per cent of students and 80 per cent of staff are in favour of this being a requirement.

USASA President Noah Beckmann has been involved in discussions surrounding a university-wide vaccination mandate and is aware of a small minority of students who have voiced their concerns about this.

“At all stages of this discussion, we have been advocating for safe and easy access to vaccination for those who choose to be vaccinated, and any possible mandate should take into consideration the ability of students to access vaccinations,” Noah says.

“We have also been working in partnership with the university since the start of the pandemic to determine our responses regarding compliance with any COVID specific policies or requirements, for example, those set out by Facilities Management with regards to events on campus.”

At the time of publication, USASA has no official stance on mandatory vaccination, but say they will continue to follow the relevant public health advice when considering attendance at their activities on and off campus.

Journalism and Professional Writing student Joshua Button believes mandatory vaccination would be a good move for the university, but requires “a level-headed approach”.

Although he thought mandatory vaccination was a reasonable request, having friends with chronic illnesses has impacted his perspective.

“The vaccine, albeit safe for the majority of the population, is still being researched on its potential interactions with the treatments they’re currently on,” Joshua says. 

“These people, through no fault of their own, are unable to get it, and are absolutely the people who would be at the front of the line if they could.

“Which is exactly why the rest of us need to get it, to help stop transmission into people that, if they caught COVID, would have a horrific reaction.

“If you can’t receive the vaccine because of some tangible concern, there should be pathways for you to at least use campus facilities.”

The conversation around potential COVID vaccine mandates within the university comes as  workplaces begin mandating the vaccine.

Managing Solicitor of the UniSA Legal Advice Clinic Matthew Atkinson confirms the clinic has seen people seeking legal advice around the issue.

“Individual situations vary, and thus legal options do too,” Matthew says.

“This can be a fraught area because some people have very strong views about personal choice and vaccination.”

“If someone chooses not to be vaccinated and is at risk of losing or loses their employment because of this choice, this can have significant financial implications for them and their dependants.”

The following situations may require an employee to be vaccinated:

  • If the contract of employment (or enterprise agreement/award) stipulates this as a condition of employment;
  • or, when a lawful and reasonable direction is provided.

“What is ‘lawful and reasonable’ depends on the facts – therefore it is important to get legal advice,” Matthew says.

Alternatively, there are situations where employers must require their employees to be vaccinated, which occurs if the law (like a state public health order) requires an employee to be vaccinated.

Matthew says that for the COVID-19 mandates, exemptions on medical grounds must be obtained from the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR), which involves completing a form with their GP that is assessed by the AIR.

“Form filling and assessment takes time and there are specific dates that, the law has stipulated dates, of when people must be vaccinated,” Matthew says.

“Someone should be getting legal advice as soon as this becomes an issue for them – if someone doesn’t want to get vaccinated but their employer says that they must, they should get legal advice.”

The UniSA Legal Clinic has now closed for the teaching term and will reopen in 2022.