Coronavirus: Principals worry about losing staff over vaccine mandate

By John Gerritsen of RNZ 

School principals are hoping against hope their vaccination-resistant teachers will get a COVID-19 jab before midnight.

All unvaccinated school and early childhood staff who have contact with children are committing an offence if they turn up for work tomorrow.

Whangārei Intermediate principal Hayley Read said five of her staff were last week refusing the vaccination and she would find out their final decision at the end of Monday.

"It's probably one of the worst days of my career. I've been a principal for 21 years and I've come across lots of other challenges, but losing staff under these conditions is really challenging for me because they are such amazing people, so I'm going to be really sad today," she said.

Read said she was not giving up hope and her staff would have until midnight Monday to get their shot.

If they did not get the vaccination, it would be disruptive, she said.

"Potentially, I'm five staff members down and I need to quickly work out what I'm going to do with the impact of those staff members and their roles," Read said.

Northland College principal Duane Allen said two of his 24 teachers did not want the vaccination and he had little hope they would change their minds on Monday.

"Having had some informal conversations with them prior to last week when a more formal process started, as well as those more formal meetings, there hasn't been a real shift in their stance or in their perspective at all," he said.

Allen said the school had been one teacher short all year and finding two more next year would be difficult.

Though some schools were struggling with the vaccine mandate, other principals told RNZ all their staff were vaccinated and there had been no problems.

Flanshaw Road School principal Cherie Taylor-Patel said some of her vaccination-resistant staff at the Auckland school were wavering.

"Two weeks ago it sounded like it was really definite and there was nothing that was going to change their mind, whereas today it's been great to listen and to hear people to suggest that perhaps they will get vaccinated under certain circumstances or for instance with a different vaccination," she said.

Educational Institute (NZEI) president Liam Rutherford said disinformation had been the main driver for school and early learning staff refusing the vaccine.

"What we've really seen through this is the challenges associated with disinformation campaigns and how quickly misinformation can spread and given the seriousness of COVID and the huge role the vaccine plays I think that's really disappointing to see," he said.

The union was expecting most people who were resisting the vaccine mandate would change their mind and get their shot by the end of today, he said.

Meanwhile the Education Ministry said four schools have applied for an exemption from the mandate and it was considering their cases.