Coronavirus: Teachers likely to face vaccination mandate as New Zealand's jab drive heats up

New Zealand teachers are likely to face a COVID-19 vaccination mandate as the drive to get as many people vaccinated as possible heats up.

About 840,000 eligible Kiwis - about 20 percent - are still without a single dose of the vaccine.

To get as many people vaccinated as possible, the Ministry of Health is now recommending those with just the first dose bring their period between vaccines back to three weeks; they had previously encouraged a six-week wait to ensure more people could get at least partially vaccinated.

This will help increase community immunity, Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay says, including that among teachers who will likely face a mandate come Monday.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins gave a warning to teachers during Wednesday's COVID-19 update after he was asked whether they should prepare for a mandate.

"If I was a teacher, I would be making sure I'd be getting a first dose at this point," he said.

The New Zealand Principals' Federation says they want to send a message to their workforce that being vaccinated is "absolutely critical".

"We agree in this country we follow science," executive Perry Rush says.

New Zealand is no longer trying to eliminate the virus and is instead focusing on a gradual transition towards the next phase of the response.

Hipkins has warned that getting back to zero cases in the community is now unlikely, so tracking down those who are unvaccinated to ensure they get the jab is important since the virus is finding its way to them and making them sick.

"The next week-and-a-half is critical. We want to pull out all of the stops to increase our vaccination rates. It has never been more urgent," he says.

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Getty Images

Of the cases in this outbreak, about 60 percent weren't vaccinated, 22 percent - almost a quarter - were too young to be. Just 14 percent had one jab and only 4.5 percent had both.

Of the 135 people who've been hospitalised, 106 were eligible to receive a vaccine but hadn't, 22 had one dose, and just three had both.

But there's still more in the push to be the most-vaccinated country. Next weekend on October 16 is Super Saturday, the Government's newly-announced national day to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

The nationwide event will be done through barbeques, drive-throughs, door-knocking, and even a rare political ceasefire.

"Super Saturday will be an opportunity for all of us to put aside our differences, just for 24 hours," Hipkins says.

The National Party is on board with it too.

"We do a joint Hutt Valley effort, Vaccinate the Valley, Jabba the Hutt - whatever," says Chris Bishop, the party's COVID-19 response spokesperson.

Leader Judith Collins is urging those worried about what's in the vaccine to just give it a try, saying it's a bit like KFC.

"Who knows what's in those secret herbs and spices and yet still people eat it," she says.