Hundreds of thousands of education and health staff – including teachers, GPs, pharmacists and nurses – will need to be fully vaccinated in the coming months or face losing their jobs.
The two-dose deadline for high-risk health and disability staff is December 1 this year, and for education – including all school and ECE staff who come into contact with students – it is January 1 next year.
Secondary schools, from next year, will also be required to keep a register to show the vaccination status of students.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, who is also the Education Minister, has just revealed Cabinet’s decision on mandatory vaccinations for workers in the education and healthcare sectors.
“It’s not an easy decision, but we need the people who work with vulnerable communities who haven’t yet been vaccinated to take this extra step,” he said.
“Exemptions may be possible under some circumstances.”
Healthcare workers will have to be fully vaccinated by December 1 this year, and will need to have had their first dose by October 30.
The public health order requiring this will include general practitioners, pharmacists, community health nurses, midwives, paramedics, and all healthcare workers in sites where vulnerable patients are treated (including Intensive Care Units).
“These requirements also include certain non-regulated healthcare work, such as aged residential care, home and community support services, kaupapa Māori health providers and NGOs who provide health services,” Hipkins said.
The full list will be provided in the next few days.
Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said he has a high level of confidence that health staff will get vaccinated, particularly those in isolated communities.
He said he has not thought about an exemption process, and he would consider each case individually.
All staff at schools and ECEs who have contact with children and students will need to have a first dose by November 1, and to be fully vaccinated by January 1.
“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 said.
“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.”
Parents volunteering at schools will also need to be fully vaccinated.
Hipkins said all school employees in Auckland and other level 3 regions will be required to return a negative Covid-19 test before they can return to work onsite.
“Those who are not fully vaccinated in the period leading up to January 1, 2022, will also be required to undergo weekly Covid-19 testing.”
The Ministry of Education will work closely with smaller schools in isolated communities, Hipkins said. Those in rural areas were just as at risk as people living in cities, and that was a message that would be pushed in schools.
Hipkins said the ministry is used to supporting schools that have short-term staffing needs, and will continue to do that.
Students are not required to get vaccinated, Hipkins said. Officials are conscious a significant number of children cannot be vaccinated currently, although they urged all young people who were eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Hipkins noted there has been a positive vaccination “uptick” in recent weeks as schools work with local health providers.
The Government was still considering whether mandatory vaccinations will be required in the tertiary education sector.
While there had been support for mandatory vaccinations for these workforces, there has also been some pushback.
The NZ Council of Trade Unions has previously cautioned that a blanket vaccination order could do more harm than good because it might create a sense of coercion.
And more than 5000 people have signed a petition asking for no mandatory vaccinations, which has been submitted to Parliament.
This morning a number of health and youth experts, in an Otago University public health blogpost, called for a clear strategy to minimise any infections in school settings.
These included mandatory vaccination for all adults on school sites – and no on-site learning to start before 90 per cent vaccination coverage for staff – regular staff testing, vaccination events in schools, and guidelines on ventilation, physical distancing and mask use.
Schools in Auckland had been earmarked to open from October 18, pending public health advice.
ECE centres in Auckland opened last week, but restricted to bubbles of 10 people, and subject to availability – some centres were already at bubble capacity because essential workers could already drop their kids off at ECE centres.
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