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Image: Getty Images, additional design by Tina Tiller
Image: Getty Images, additional design by Tina Tiller

SocietyNovember 30, 2021

Playcentre wants ‘recognition of our unique nature’ on controversial vaccination mandate

Image: Getty Images, additional design by Tina Tiller
Image: Getty Images, additional design by Tina Tiller

Following a survey suggesting a large percentage of Playcentre parents remain unvaccinated, the organisation’s head is seeking a meeting with the prime minister to discuss the challenges posed by the mandate.

This post was first published on Emily Writes Weekly.

Playcentre Aotearoa chief executive David Moger has told staff and Playcentre members he is seeking a “formal kōrero with the prime minister [and] the Minister of Education, and their officials” about the vaccination mandate for early childhood education staff.

In an email to Playcentre members sent last Tuesday, Moger said Playcentre hoped to get “recognition of our unique nature” in the meeting, and would be asking for “government support to help us maintain our manaakitanga, kotahitanga and whanaungatanga”.

This follows a newsletter sent to members last month, soon after the mandate was announced, expressing concerns about its implication for Playcentre.

The Playcentre model sees each centre run as a parent cooperative – families work together to provide care and education for their children through play sessions that run for two to four hours. There are more than 420 centres around the country, with more than 22,000 parents and caregivers acting as volunteers to teach around 9,500 children.

In response to questions sent via email, Playcentre’s communications manager Claire Gullidge said the goal of the meeting wasn’t to seek an exemption to the government mandate requiring all early-learning staff and support people who have contact with children and students to be fully vaccinated by January 1, 2022.

“Our ultimate goal is for our tamariki, parents, staff and local Playcentre villages to be safe and to grow,” she said. “We are seeking kōrero with the prime minister to set out the impact of the government mandate on our uniquely Aotearoa New Zealand organisation and to seek help in navigating through the current challenges and beyond so that all our tamariki in the future can experience all the benefits that Playcentre brings.”

In the email sent on Tuesday, Moger referred to “only” 91% of Playcentre staff being vaccinated. A Playcentre staff member who didn’t want to be named said she and other staff were confused by the emphasis on “only” 91% of staff, as she felt it was a high number.

When Gullidge was asked if she thought 91% was quite a high number for staff, she said Playcentre was still consulting with staff.

“Each and every staff member makes a valuable contribution to the work we do, and we do not want to lose a single one of them. As with other organisations facing the implementation of the government mandate, we are having to work through staffing levels and rosters at this time.”

The email said: “Our latest numbers show that only 91% of our staff are vaccinated and that of our approximately 10,000 volunteers covered by the mandate, 6,000 are vaccinated.”

A Playcentre mum from Auckland, Sarah (not her real name), said she was shocked by the high number of members presumed to be unvaccinated, and wondered if members had just not responded to emails from Playcentre Aotearoa.

“I’m frustrated at the fact that very important decisions are potentially being made with very incomplete data,” she said.

Gullidge clarified that all parents on the Playcentre books were included as volunteers, and as of last week, 6,000 members said they were vaccinated. The vaccination status of the 4,000 yet to respond was not known but they were considered unvaccinated. “At this point we have had approximately 6,000 returns and the process is ongoing,” said Gullidge. “The numbers are changing daily. Playcentres located in level three have been closed, so for these centres the vaccine mandate hasn’t been applicable to them yet. Given that it is almost the end of term four, we won’t know the full effect until the start of term one next year when all of our Playcentres are open again.”

Vaccination information was held centrally by Playcentre Aotearoa, which was frustrating some members. In a private Facebook group, Playcentre mum Claire said they “really doubt” that “40% of Playcentre volunteers are unvaccinated”.

“While 40% may not have filled out the survey and uploaded evidence yet, this will partly be due to the survey not being sent to all members,” she said. Claire said she had not received an email from Playcentre despite being “a long-standing member”.

Gullidge said Playcentre Aotearoa has been told that if vaccination status information is not provided, “we will have no choice but to assume that you have not been vaccinated and as such you will be in breach of the Government Order if you attend Playcentre when children may be present”.

Another Auckland Playcentre mother The Spinoff spoke to said “the choice to hold vaccine data centrally was obviously made with privacy in mind, but it simply doesn’t make sense practically”. She also questioned how safe the system was.

“What about when someone comes for a visit? Theoretically, someone would need to check their vaccine status before they could be admitted, so someone will know.”

Gullidge said Playcentre Aotearoa is required by the government to confidentially collect and store the vaccination status of everyone who is covered by the vaccination mandate.

Last month, concerns about the mandate were raised in a newsletter sent to members.

Sarah said she felt exhausted by the way the vaccination issue is being framed within the organisation.

“I’m so tired of it all. Tired of something lovely being hijacked. Concerned at the rhetoric of an official email that seems to be finding a loophole to potentially allow unvaccinated people into centres and endanger others when [Playcentre Aotearoa] have been emphasising how important it is to protect our tamariki and the community up until now.

“I try to have empathy for people who have been taken in by misinformation but I am reaching the end of my tether.”

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