Coronavirus: Aged care sector begs Govt for vaccine mandate, else 'residents will die'

The aged care sector is warning lives will be lost if the Government doesn't urgently mandate vaccines for healthcare workers.

The current public health order for vaccines only covers border workers, but it could soon be extended.

It can't come soon enough for retirement villages. The deadliest COVID cluster in New Zealand was in Christchurch rest home Rosewood last year, where 12 elderly people died.  

The Aged Care Association CEO Simon Wallace warns more lives will be lost unless all its workers are vaccinated. 

"The health of our residents is at risk, and residents will die."

About 80 percent of aged care workers have been vaccinated - the sector says that's not enough to protect the elderly and it feels the Government is dragging the chain on a vaccine mandate.

"It's hugely frustrating in terms of the slowness of it. It's already been mandated in the UK and Australia - New Zealand should have done it some time ago, so let's just do it now.

He wants the public health order that's in place for border and MIQ workers to be extended to all healthcare workers. 

"That will override all those employment issues and make the whole thing a lot easier for everybody."

Ryman Healthcare gave up waiting, putting its own 'no jab no job' policy in place.

"With Delta starting to spread, and it can go real quick, we're just better to make sure people in the care centres are all vaccinated", says CEO Gordon MacLeod.

The residents feel lucky to live in a retirement village where all staff are vaccinated. 

"It's good to know they are protected, and that protects us", says 84year-old Malvina Major resident Jenny Daniels. 

Ryman Healthcare has gone a step further, introducing a 'no jab no visit' policy as well. Anyone coming through its doors must have at least one dose of the vaccine -, that includes visitors and contractors. Some unvaccinated visitors will be allowed in though, such as children under 12, but they have to stay in a separate dedicated area and wear full PPE.

"We've got to be really careful. It'd be great for people to see grandkids running around care centres, but it's just not the right time for it," says Mr MacLeod.

A vaccine mandate could be just around the corner - COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says the issue is on the cards for this week. 

"The two workforces we are considering specifically on Monday are the health workforce and the education workforce."

Our most vulnerable are urging all eligible kiwis to get vaccinated. Natalie Brockie, 82, says it's an absolute obligation for everyone. 

"Life is never going to be the same, and we've all got to do our part. I would ask people who are against the vaccine to look outside themselves and think of others."

Bruce Perry, 91, feels the same, and finds it difficult to understand why people won't get the vaccine: "Freedom for a few, or the sickness for a lot of us."