Jacinda Ardern insists COVID-19 vaccine mandates 'not taken lightly' as second clinic visit cancelled due to protests

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has for the second time in one day been forced to cancel a visit to a COVID-19 vaccination clinic due to anti-vaxx protesters. 

Ardern was scheduled to visit a clinic in Whanganui on Wednesday morning but it was cancelled after at least 100 protesters gathered outside, holding signs that read "segregation is not okay ever" and "toot for freedom". 

The Prime Minister had a second clinic visit planned at Hunterville, about 13km from Whanganui, but her office confirmed that, due to protest activity at the clinic, Ardern would instead meet with locals involved in the vaccine campaign. 

Ardern told reporters in Whanganui she wasn't surprised by the protesters, and that vaccine mandates - which cover about 40 percent of the workforce - were decisions "not taken lightly". 

"We are at a stage in the vaccine rollout where we are trying to reach into communities that may hold firm views. But we need to have those conversations, and just talking to some of our health practitioners, their goal is to talk to everyone, wherever they can, to try and have those conversations around why it is so important that people are vaccinated," she said. 

"Keep in mind, with first doses, we've now reached 88 percent of eligible New Zealanders. We are now reaching into groups who either have concerns that we need to respond to or actually just hold firmly held views."

Ardern's trip to Northland on Tuesday was similarly disrupted by anti-vaxxers. A man joined by a camera operator interrupted the Prime Minister's press conference in Kawakawa, with claims about the COVID-19 vaccine "not working" in Israel. 

Ardern was forced to move the press conference to another location. 

"We have not taken lightly the decision for some areas to require vaccination. It's taken a lot of discussion and careful thought, and we have, you've seen, focussed on those groups that we do consider to be high-risk," Ardern said on Wednesday.  

"If you work in the health profession, we do need to be able to guarantee that people who are seeking healthcare who are vulnerable, are protected. 

"If you work in education, likewise, we've got a large group of people that we cannot vaccinate who are in our education system.

"So yes, it is a big decision, but not one we took lightly and one that we took, we believe, was in the best interest of all New Zealanders."

Ardern denied the mandates had further entrenched people's views. 

"I know that from some discussions there are those for whom it's had the other effect, where they've had questions to confront those and go and have conversations.

"Of course, we had the experience of having already rolled this out for our border workers, and what we noticed was, by putting a date on it, it did cause those who had questions to go and seek advice, to talk to trusted health professionals, and then make a decision.

"Yes, in those areas, we are forcing those decisions to be made, but I hope it also means people are actually accessing the information they need, to make it."

Ardern said vaccinations will never be forced on the population - just certain workforces the Government deems to be high-risk. Students under the age of 12, for example, can't be vaccinated, so teachers are required to be. 

"This is about certain workforces and workplaces where we've applied an assessment over whether or not we have a duty of care to look after those most vulnerable.

"The question always was, would we mandate vaccinations for all New Zealanders? And we haven't. We've also guarded against requiring vaccines in areas where we need to ensure people are always, no matter what, able to access.

"Health services, food, government support - we've been very clear: we will not require and will never require vaccine certificates to access food, to access government benefits, to access services that people need to live."