Government mandates COVID-19 vaccinations for high-risk health workers and school staff

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has announced that COVID-19 vaccinations will be made mandatory for high-risk health workers and school and ECE staff.

Speaking on Monday, he said this was "critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19".

"Vaccination remains our strongest and most effective tool to protect against infection and disease, and we need as many workers as possible to be vaccinated to allow sectors to respond to the pandemic and deliver everyday services with as little disruption as possible," he said.

"While most people working in these sectors are already fully or partially vaccinated we can't leave anything to chance and are making it mandatory."

Hipkins said this measure was being imposed because vaccinations for children aged five to 11 are not yet approved and the health and disability sector includes a range of high-risk occupations.

"People have a reasonable expectation that our workforces are taking all reasonable precautions to prevent the spread of disease, and government agencies have been working with them to ensure they are as protected as possible," he said.

"A high rate of vaccinations will help to protect staff from getting sick and passing COVID-19 onto loved ones. It will also reassure those who are anxious about their children attending school and early learning services."

How will it work?

Health and Disability sector      

The COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021 will be updated to require anyone conducting high-risk work in the health and disability sector to be fully vaccinated by December 1 2021.

 "Under these new requirements, general practitioners, pharmacists, community health nurses, midwives, paramedics, and all healthcare workers in sites where vulnerable patients are treated (including intensive care units) must receive their first dose of the vaccine by October 30," Hipkins said.

 "These requirements also include certain non-regulated healthcare work, such as aged residential care, home and community support services, kaupapa Māori health providers and non-government organisations who provide health services."

Education sector

School and ECE workers will need to have their first dose by November 15. From January 1, 2022, schools and early learning services and providers will need to maintain a register, and ensure only vaccinated staff and support people have contact with children and students.

"This includes home-based educators, and all those support people in our schools and early learning services such as teacher-aides, administration and maintenance staff and contractors," Hipkins states.

"All school employees in Auckland and other alert level 3 regions will be required to return a negative COVID-19 test result before they can return to work onsite.

"Those who are not fully vaccinated in the period leading up to 1 January 2022, will also be required to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing."

Hipkins says secondary schools and kura will also be required to keep a COVID-19 vaccination register for students.

"Students that do not produce evidence of vaccination will be considered unvaccinated," he warns.

He adds work is continuing on whether mandatary vaccinations will be required in the tertiary education sector.

Pushback against mandatory vaccination

There's already been pushback. A petition was launched on Thursday against mandating vaccinations and had more than 5900 signatures, including one from a pregnant educator who said she felt "absolutely terrified about the prospect".

However the NZ Medical Association welcomes the news as it will keep patients and healthcare workers safe.

"Today's announcement will save lives," NZMA chair Dr Alistair Humphrey said in a statement.

"All doctors should be vaccinated, and we know the vast majority is. Principle 1 of the Code of Ethics for the New Zealand Medical Profession is that the health and well-being of the patient is a doctor's first priority."

Doctors and other healthcare workers are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 in the course of their work, Dr Humphrey said.

It follows that their patients, many of whom are debilitated or immunocompromised, are more likely to suffer serious complications if they are infected by the doctor.

"We called a month ago for all doctors involved in patient care to be fully vaccinated - we're pleased the Government has come to the same view."