COVID-19: Jacinda Ardern says it's 'hard to know' how long vaccination mandates will remain in place

Mandatory vaccines could be part of New Zealand life for some time to come, with the PM reluctant to talk about when they might be lifted.
Mandatory vaccines could be part of New Zealand life for some time to come, with the PM reluctant to talk about when they might be lifted. Photo credit: Newshub

By Jane Patterson of RNZ

Mandatory vaccines could be part of New Zealand life for some time to come, with the Prime Minister reluctant to talk about when they might be lifted.

The first deadline for health and education workers is looming - by next Tuesday all of those eligible must have had their first dose, and their second by the 1 January.

One sector already flagging problems is education, with some schools warning they will struggle to get all teachers vaccinated by the deadline - a situation potentially worse for rural areas.

A range of businesses are also rolling out mandates - one of the most recent - for domestic travel on the national carrier, Air New Zealand.

A large protest was staged at Parliament yesterday where many were voicing their anger and frustration at the prospect of being forced into getting vaccinated or face losing their job.

National Party leader Judith Collins said her party supported compulsory vaccinations, where from "a health and safety risk assessment point of view that makes sense", including border workers and in health and education.

"The issue with mandating is of course it can get people's back up a bit but look, 90 percent of the population in Auckland has now had at least one jab," Collins told reporters at Parliament.

"That tells you that tells you there's a lot of people who just want to get vaccinated."

Chris Hipkins - both Minister for the COVID-19 Response and Education - said the government would work closely with teachers in the meantime.

"One of the things that I'm acutely aware of in particularly some of those smaller schools, some of that misinformation is actually having an impact on teachers' willingness to be vaccinated ... often when we can provide good reliable information and combat some of that misinformation, some of those people who are saying 'At the moment, no, we don't want to be vaccinated' actually are willing to be vaccinated."

He cited one of the earliest mandates - for port workers: "We were very concerned that we would lose a lot of port workers when we had the requirement in place there, actually we lost very, very few because we worked really hard to make sure that they got good, reliable information."

From 1 January 2022, teachers need to be fully vaccinated if they're coming back into the classroom next year, he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did not buy the argument mandating had contributed to the groundswell of government opposition.

"No, no look, I think ultimately, relative to other countries, we have been very careful and considered we haven't used mandates nearly as what you'll see in some of those overseas jurisdictions," Ardern said.

The government had "applied a very careful process", looking at the risk profile of different workplaces but it was "hard to know" how long they would have to be used, Ardern said.

"Of course, we all want this to be a period in our history that we don't repeat, but it is so hard to know what the future holds."

While teachers deal with the mandate and its consequences, schools, parents and students of children from years one to ten in Auckland and Waikato - still at alert level 3 - are still learning from home and awaiting news of when they might be able to go back.

Older students have been able to return but there is much more caution around the younger children - firstly they do not have end of year exams, but also those under 12 cannot yet be vaccinated.

Hipkins is expected to give more details about the plans for those primary and intermediate students early this afternoon.