No Jab, no p(l)ay

No Jab, no p(l)ay: The ethics of vaccination for early childhood educators

Catharine Hydon in Conversation with Trent Moy

Over the past 18 months of this global pandemic, early childhood educators have navigated a myriad of ethical challenges. We have seen temperature checks for children replace warm hugs and lingering conversations. Parents were barred from entering our rooms while educators promoted the need to ‘check in’ with a QR code while balancing bags and hurried goodbyes. And now, as this pandemic escalates, particularly in our nation’s two largest states, educators are once again on the front line and being asked to monitor eligibility.

For the most part, even though these can be complex and difficult ethical decisions, educators have what I like to call ‘match fitness’. We are used to making decisions about the best interests of children and their families. And we are increasingly skilled at using the ECA Code of Ethics to guide these decisions.

But we have an ethical Achilles heel.

Our ethical relationship with our colleagues and the profession constantly trips us up. Just as we are making respectful decisions about the rights of vulnerable children to access early childhood education, we are ripping each other to shreds on social media. I have talked about this in previous blogs that you can find here and here.

And now educators are part of another significant ethical discussion—the ethics of mandatory vaccinations for early childhood educators, which will once again test our capacity to engage in respectful and professional dialogue. In the light of the NSW Government’s decision to mandate vaccinations for teachers, we have an opportunity to engage in conversations that cultivate shared understandings rather than aggressive positioning.  We desperately need to step back from unfounded and reactive social media posts to think deeply about who we are and what we want for children, families, educators, and professionals.

As others investigate the legalities[1] of this shift in professional expectations, we ought to turn our attention to the ethics of this decision.

Of course, for some of you, you have long since decided to become vaccinated for your own and, no doubt, others’ best interest. But what if this was to become a mandatory requirement for all educators? Are you still on board? What if a well-regarded colleague declined—what then?

To help us navigate this space, I am joined in this blog by a friend of ECA, Trent Moy, lecturer and consultant with a long career in understanding ethics in our contemporary lives. Trent assisted ECA in the development of the 2016 edition of the Code of Ethics.

Over to you, Trent. Where do we start?

We start by acknowledging that we already know the answer. Our ‘ethical intuition’ is powerful and it pre-empts the answer to any ethical question, even before we’ve really had a chance to understand the full dimensions of the question and develop a well-considered response. As I’ve listened to you explaining the challenge for early childhood educators, I’ve created a quick set of moral judgments that tell me the ‘correct’ answer. I know what is fair, good, right … and now I just need to backfill with some reasoning.

And that’s the danger. Ethical questions can easily turn into battles where we justify our intuitions. You can see this in social media ‘conversations’.

A better approach is to acknowledge our intuition by writing down the ‘correct’ answer and the key moral and affective, or emotional, responses that we are experiencing. We can park our powerful ethical intuition while we access more of our thinking and perspective-seeking capacities.

In addition to taking on expert legal, HR and other advice, I’d suggest we consider: (a) the personal values that are at stake; (b) the duties and rights of educators and children; (c) the ECA Code of Ethics of the profession.

Personal values

At a local level we need to check that we fully understand the values that our educators believe are ‘at stake’ here. What values do they think will be upheld by requiring all educators to be vaccinated, and what values will be diminished? Importantly, we need to be alert to what might be unpopular, or faint voices in this conversation.

Competing values are likely to be between ‘liberty’ or ‘autonomy’ and ‘care’ or ‘safety’. I think it’s important that we see the values that people are expressing as genuinely important and fundamental to their idea of living well, rather than labelling the position that a person may take on an issue—e.g. ‘anti-vax’.

It sounds obvious when we step back, but it’s helpful to ask our educators whether there’s tension between the prioritisation of individual and collective values, or if we hold the same values priorities but see those values being delivered in different ways.  For example, two workers may value ‘safety’ but see mandatory vaccine policies/mandates as creating a safer or less safe environment.  It’s worth getting to understand the deeper values dialogue.

Duties and rights

Working in any ‘caring’ field involves balancing personal choices and broader duties to others. No doubt COVID-19 and vaccinations have highlighted duties of care across many professions but we must question whether we are imposing a new, and possibly unreasonable, duty on educators to be vaccinated.

For many educators a duty to be vaccinated is motivating—it’s entirely consistent with their idea of caring for children. It aligns with their idea of being a good professional and the Rights of the Child.

For others, the burden of mandatory vaccination may be too high for them. Here, we need to consider whether we are causing irreparable damage to somebody’s rights or imposing a condition of employment that (fairly) protects or promotes the rights of others.

One way of facilitating discussion is to consider whether we are acting for the benefit of the least advantaged, or vulnerable.  Have we sought out the perspectives of those individuals?  Have we sought dispassionate and expert assessment of the possible burdens or benefits?  Could we be imposing a burden on people who already suffer disadvantage?  Are there ways we can mitigate this burden?

ECA Code of Ethics

The Core Principles in the ECA Code of Ethics (2016) are based on a ‘commitment to maintain the rights and dignity of children, families, colleagues and communities’. Among the commitments is a primary commitment to ‘act in the best interests of all children’ and to ‘create and maintain safe, healthy, inclusive environments that support children’s agency and enhance their learning’.

Given that the ECEC profession has a well-developed Code which is used to guide other ethical decisions and practice, I think it’s important that its used when considering COVID-19 vaccination policies/mandates.  In doing so, it’s important that we earnestly assess the purpose of those policies/mandates against the Code. 

We need to be alive to discussions about mandatory vaccines being confused with agendas and objectives that are not wholly consistent with the Core Principles in the ECA Code.

As expected, Trent, you have helped us think beyond the either/or binary into values and the perspectives of others. Ultimately I think we are talking about embracing the ‘common good’—the way we can each play a part to ensure every individual, especially the least powerful, can flourish.

Reference: Early Childhood Australia (ECA). (2016). Code of Ethics. ECA.

[1] This blog is not legal advice.  It is instead a collection of ideas that hopefully provoke further discussion.  It is important that individual educators and services seek their own legal advice as required.


Note: Catharine and Trent will be facilitators for the Early Childhood Australia Colloquia on Leadership and Ethics to be held in February 2022. Read more about the Colloquia here.

ECA Recommends

Code of Ethics
Ethics in Action: A practical guide to implementing the ECA Code of Ethics

Authors: Dr Lennie Barblett, Catharine Hydon and Dr Anne Kennedy

The ECA Code of Ethics is a set of statements about appropriate and expected behaviour of early childhood professionals. Explore the ECA Code of Ethics publications here.



Trent Moy is the founder of Halide, a specialist consultancy in ethics, decision-making, culture and leadership. He consults to variety of clients from ASX-listed companies to elite sport and not-for-profit organisations. His experience includes 25 years of management and leadership in financial services, including the leadership of corporate responsibility and sustainability for one of Australia’s largest companies. As a specialist in ethics, which he defines as ‘thinking and doing decisions when something of critical value is at stake’, Trent has a deep understanding of complex organisational cultures and culture change, a dislike for rules, and a passion for cross-discipline and lifelong learning. Trent is a casual academic with Australian Catholic University, where he teaches educational philosophy and social justice. He is a long-term associate of The Ethics Centre and a Fellow of the Institute of Community Directors which seeks to improve the governance of Australia’s not-for-profit organisations. He holds qualifications in arts, business and higher education.

Catharine Hydon

Catharine Hydon is the Director and Principal Consultant at Hydon Consulting. Over the last 10 years Catharine worked with a range of organisations and governments to understand and articulate quality and inspire change. With a Masters in early childhood education, Catharine has extensive experience in the early childhood sector beginning as a teacher in a kindergarten program in the northern suburbs of Melbourne to lead roles in a range of services and projects.  Catharine draws on her experience and ongoing practice research to consider how theory connects and informs practice.  Specialising in early childhood practice and pedagogy, quality improvement, policy and governance, the delivery of integrated services to engage vulnerable children and their families.  Catharine’s involvement in the early childhood sector is an important part of her commitment to the outcomes for children.  She is a long-time member of Early Childhood Australia (ECA) and has just concluded her role as the Co-chair of the Reconciliation Advisory Group and is a regular contributor in ECA publications. Catharine has been a member of the ECA Code of Ethics working group for the last two reviews and is a co-author on the recently published Ethics in Action Implementation guide. Catharine is a dynamic speaker and collaborative facilitator and is skilled at engaging professionals in reflective dialogue and creative conversations.   

4 thoughts on “No Jab, no p(l)ay”

    Marisa Saheli says:

    I strongly believe in freedom of choice when it comes to any medical procedure. This virus as its been stated is 99% recovery and also Greg Hunt has said that this is the largest clinical trail in the world. Thus far there is NO long term data of any effects this vaccine will have on ones body. Please this has to be made voluntary and not a mandate. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to say this.

    Emily says:

    I am a proud Early Childhood Educator who takes great pride in providing high quality education and care to all that attend the service I work at. I have received all vaccinations on the immunisation schedule, as well as ensure that I regularly get my influenza vaccination each year, and take all necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of all stakeholders of our service. However, when I was told that the government would be making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all of our staff by November, I was extremely concerned.

    Firstly, I had already done a lot of research into the vaccine, as suggested by my GP and other health professions, so that I could make an informed CHOICE whether to receive it, especially because I am currently 23 weeks pregnant. Due to this research, I believe I have a strong understanding of how the vaccines work, particularly the mRNA vaccinations. I also understand that the vaccine itself has only been approved as a 2 year trial, meaning it is not part of the national immunisation schedule, as it is not an immunisation, it is only a vaccination. That is, even people who are fully vaccinated are not immune to COVID-19 and therefore may still contract and pass-on the virus, can still become very ill, and can still die from COVID-19. In addition to this, I discovered that less than 36,000 pregnant women had been part of the tests that supposedly show that the vaccines are safe for pregnant and/or breastfeeding women. That is only approximately 10% of the population of the LGA where I live on the Central Coast of NSW. Compare that statistic to the population of Australia or even the world, 36,000 is next to nothing. Based on my above findings, I did not believe that I had sufficient proof that the vaccination would be safe for my unborn child, or myself, and therefore knew that I could not possibly make an informed decision to get vaccinated until much stronger evidence had been provided.

    I took my concerns to my GP, who completely understood and validated them, however, due to having been told not to interfere with the roll-out of the vaccination, could not provide me with a medical exemption, and suggested I seek help from my Union. Up until now, I have considered myself very lucky to be a part of my Union, as they have supported me through a number of issues with my employer in the past. So, you can only imagine how shocked and disappointed I was to find that this Union, to which I pay monthly fees to support ME and my rights, has decided to side with the government, and would not support me to fight for my right to choose whether or not to consent to certain medical treatments. I was left alone, anyone I could turn to for support previously (my GP, my employer, my union) was unable to help me, because of the abusive power of our government’s totalitarian stance on vaccinations. I felt alone, I felt hopeless and I felt defeated.

    This lead to me seeking assistance from an experienced Psychologist at our EAP service, to help with the distress the entire situation had caused, and help me come to terms with the decision, or lack thereof that lay before me. I could continue to fight for my rights, and fight for the rights of my unborn child, refuse the vaccination until I had stronger evidence and information on its safety, meaning I would lose my job, and in turn lose my entitlement to any paid parental leave for when my baby is born next year, potentially causing my baby more harm from me not being able to afford the simple costs of day-to-day living. Or, I could get the vaccination, maintain my employment and parental leave entitlements, and pray that neither of us suffer any adverse affects from it, now or in our future. Which, after a lot of sleepless nights, conversations with various GP’s and tearful discussions with loved ones, is what I ended up doing.

    Now, I sit here, one week after being forced into receiving my first dose of the supposedly safe Pfizer vaccine, and still off work due to it making me feel extremely unwell. And, to top it all off, I have no sick leave left to cover this absence, meaning that without support from my Union, I have been left to beg my employer to grant me paid special leave (which due to the organisation’s current financial situation, I highly doubt I will receive).

    With my rights and dignity stripped from me, my choice and consent ignored, all I can do now is continue to pray that my baby and I will be okay, and continue to share my story in the hope that things may change so that no one else will have to suffer the same injustices that I have. I am so glad that ECA have chosen the right side of history, and are sharing the voices of my fellow educators, acknowledging the unethical nature of Mandatory Vaccination.

    Pippa says:

    I just wanted to say, my heart breaks for you. As if being pregnant wasn’t difficult enough, you were faced with an impossible situation. I admire your strength and can see you will be an incredible mother.

    I’m so sorry to all of the people being coerced into a procedure that you do not consent to. It’s not right and anyone who thinks it is alright needs to put themselves in another persons shoes. What if the tables were turned – you desperately wanted the vaccine but your government banned you from receiving it? Everybody should have the option to choose. Everybody.

    I think we need to go back to basics. If the purpose of mandating vaccines is to keep our kids safe, but being vaccinated does not stop transmission, it only minimises the risk for you – yourself – from being hospitalised and death, why are vaccines being pushed so hard? Wouldn’t that mean the risk of transmission is actually higher if you have the virus but are not showing symptoms? Isn’t that putting children at higher risk?

    Why is there no open debate? Why are our GPs unable to think and work for themselves? So many questions, so little room for discussion.

    Emily says:

    Thank you ECA for allowing the sector to engage in dialogue on this issue and for acknowledging the ethical dilemma surrounding this highly controversial topic.

    I believe there should be no mandatory vaccinations for anyone, ever. Especially with a vaccine that has provisional approval and no longitudinal data to demonstrate its long term efficacy or safety.

    It wasn’t too long ago that Thalidomide was prescribed to pregnant women for morning sickness and look at what happened to those children. There is a reason vaccines, medications and treatments go through such rigorous testing and trial phases. It is to prevent and minimise the damage to the human body or additional complications. None of the Covid vaccines have gone through the standard testing period or usual protocols.

    I believe whole heartedly that it should be a personal choice and no one else needs to know what that choice is, including the government and our employers.Every person should also be able to provide informed consent to any treatment they receive. In order to give informed consent a person must know the risks and potential side effects. Without that longitudinal data, I don’t believe anybody can truly give informed consent for these vaccines.

    I will finish with this, to those that chant anti-vaxxers are the problem, they are the reason our borders aren’t open and lockdowns are in place etc. Firstly please stop labelling people as anti-vaxxers, there are many people who are otherwise fully vaccinated who are cautious or hesitant to take a vaccine because there is no long term data available. Secondly, it is not the unvaccinated people who are keeping you from your job, or locked in your homes – our governments are responsible for that one. Finally, if the vaccine was as amazing as they say it is, why is Israel (one of the highest fully vaccinated nations) still experiencing lockdowns, mask mandates, social distancing and the people are now being told they are not fully vaccinated until they’ve had a booster shot?

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