COVID-19 Response Minster Chris Hipkins defends still having unvaccinated border workers on the frontline

The COVID-19 Response Minister is defending some border workers still being unvaccinated after a MIQ worker tested positive. 

On Thursday, Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced a border worker had tested positive the previous day. The 24-year-old security guard, who worked at the Grand Millennium, hadn't been vaccinated.

Border workers and those they live with started receiving the vaccine in February. The rollout has since expanded to high-risk frontline healthcare workers, people living in high-risk places, and people living in the Counties Manukau DHB area who are at higher risk.

Health officials insist 90 percent of the frontline border workforce have had at least one dose of the vaccine. But the Government has admitted it doesn't know exactly how many border workers there are. 

Chris Hipkins said the Government is working with the remaining workers to make sure they are vaccinated but warned it will take time. 

"We are working through that process with all of the employees who work at the border," he told The AM Show on Friday. 

"This [yesterday's case] was a contracted security guard. We are working with their employer to make sure that all of their workers are vaccinated, and if they haven't been to make sure that they are no longer working in those frontline roles. That's a process that takes a little bit of time.

"Ultimately when you identify the people that work there that haven't been vaccinated, there is still a process you have to go through - it's an employment process."

Hipkins said 100 percent of Defence Force border workers have been vaccinated. For police at that border, it's around 94 percent and aviation security around 96 percent. But he said contracted staff working in managed isolation facilities are taking longer. 

"Some of the lower numbers we are seeing are in the contracted workforces, so the people who are working for the hotels or the security firms." 

Hipkins said "it's possible" there will be border workers showing up to work on Friday who are unvaccinated. 

"These people do need to be treated fairly. The fact that they have for whatever reason not been vaccinated means that we've got to then work through a different process with them.

"For some people, it will be because they don't want to be vaccinated and we've always said it's not compulsory. For other people, it might be that there is a health-related reason that they haven't had the vaccine. There are some pregnant women working on the frontlines at the border, for example. They're not saying they don't want to be vaccinated, they are just saying they don't want to be vaccinated right now. "

Hipkins said he would like the vaccine rollout to be moving faster but they are at about 95 percent of the expected level. 

Around 7000 to 8000 people are being vaccinated a day which is expected to increase to 10,000 soon. 

Hipkins also addressed controversy around the number of vaccinators being used. Around half of the 1600 trained vaccinators are administering COVID-19 vaccines. 

He said that's because others trained to take part in the mass rollout in July are currently busy administering other vaccines such as flu and MMR. 

"They are getting ready so when the big supplies of vaccines arrive they will be ready to lend their efforts." 

The Pfizer vaccine is the only approved vaccine in New Zealand so far.