Coronavirus: NZ Government won't make COVID-19 vaccine mandatory, but may 'exclude' Kiwis who don't get jab - expert

The Government won't force Kiwis to take a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available in New Zealand - but a legal expert says it may opt to 'exclude' those who choose not to.

Waikato University law professor Alexander Gillespie believes New Zealand will take "a softer approach" to ensuring citizens are vaccinated than the likes of Australia, the UK and the US.

But he says our Government could employ an 'exclusion' strategy to deter people from opting out of vaccination, by barring those who didn't get the jab from various public places.

Prof Gillespie's comments come after the Health Minister this week shot down rumours claiming a vaccine for coronavirus could be made mandatory, telling media he was "alarmed" by the quantity of letters he'd received from concerned Kiwis on the topic.

"This is a direct result of deliberate misinformation that's being spread through social media," Chris Hipkins said at a press briefing from Middlemore Hospital on Thursday. "The Government is not making COVID-19 or any other vaccinations compulsory."

Last month, the New Zealand Public Party was heavily criticised after sharing a video that falsely claimed COVID-19 vaccines were mandatory under new legislation passed by the Government.

Prof Gillespie says New Zealand actually does have the power to make vaccination mandatory, but "very much doubts" that's the approach the Government will take.

"Comparable countries, like the UK, US and Australia are now all dealing with the same problem - whether when the vaccine comes, it will be compulsory or not," he told Newshub.

"New Zealand is on the outer of this group - inching towards a softer approach than they are.

"In part, this is because in New Zealand the right to refuse medical treatments such as vaccines is in the Bill of Rights, but this right - like so many of the others - can be overridden in specific times, such as emergencies.  

"If New Zealand wanted to make vaccines mandatory for COVID-19, it could - but this would require specific law."

Instead of going down this route, Prof Gillespie expects New Zealand to take an "easier option" by letting people refuse a vaccine, but ensuring other members of the community don't share the risks of those who choose not to get vaccinated.

"Typically, this can be exclusion - such as creating rules to ensure that those not vaccinated cannot go to certain places, such as schools - or, as in the case of Australia, excluding those on welfare from certain benefits."

Prof Gillespie was referring to Australia's controversial 'No Jab, No Pay' policy, which makes families ineligible for the full rate of Family Tax Benefit unless all children are immunised in accordance with its National Immunisation Program.

He said this list of exclusions available to the Government could be expanded depending on the severity of the crisis and the necessity of the vaccine, but would "have to be carefully done by law".

Prof Gillespie anticipates authoritarian countries will impose forced coronavirus vaccinations on their citizens, while most liberal democracies will allow their citizens the freedom to refuse.

"For most of the western countries, this freedom grew out of the early part of the 20th Century, following vaccination for smallpox being mandatory for most of the second half of the 19th Century, he explained.

"Most western countries realised that uptake of vaccines was easier done if it was free, accessible, and surrounded by good education campaigns. Being in the wake of a recent pandemic when people had fresh memories, also helps.

"Although it was in practice voluntary, the option for governments to make them mandatory remained in many laws, if necessary - they just opted not to."

Last month, Kiwi epidemiologist Simon Thornley told Magic Talk he believes an effective vaccine is "a very remote possibility for COVID-19", describing the wait for one to arrive as "a fantasy".

He believes the length of time normally required to develop an effective vaccine - about a decade - shows New Zealand should abandon its elimination strategy, and learn to live with coronavirus in the community.