Vaccine mandate 'a safeguard for students, staff'

People turn up at a vaccination centre in Alexandra earlier this year. Photo: Shannon Thomson
Otago's education and health sectors have been left with major questions following a government announcement yesterday, making it mandatory for those in the sectors to get a Covid vaccination or face losing their jobs.

High-risk workers in the health and disability sector now need to receive their first dose of the vaccine by October 30 and be fully vaccinated by December 1, this year.

Schools and early childhood education staff and support people who have contact with pupils need to receive their first dose by November 15 and be fully vaccinated by January 1, next year.

Secondary schools, from next year, will also be required to keep a register to show the vaccination status of pupils.

However, information missing from the announcement was detail about the legal processes to implement the policy if staff choose not to be vaccinated after the deadline.

Otago Secondary Principals’ Association president Lindy Cavanagh-Monaghan was not surprised by the announcement.

"It’s not unexpected, given that the numbers of Covid cases are not tracking down as we had hoped.

"It’s probably a safeguard for students and staff and I don’t anticipate a large amount of push-back on it."

She believed a lot of people involved in education were already vaccinated, particularly because it was an ageing workforce and many teachers had early access to the vaccine.

But there was confusion about what would happen if staff did refuse to be vaccinated.

She said schools would have to take advice from the Ministry of Education as to how they should respond.

"It becomes an employment issue, as well as a health and safety issue.

"As far as I’m aware, health and safety trumps most things when it comes to legislation, so I think that will have to be worked through on a case-by-case basis."

Otago Primary Principals’ Association president Gareth Swete said the sector would be "taking time" over the next few days to clarify and seek further advice from the Ministry of Education, to help support all staff through this new requirement.

"We have demonstrated time and time again over the last two years that we are adaptable and have excellent leadership, incredible teaching and support staff, and amazing children.

"I am confident that we will be able to continue to adapt to new advice as it comes and continue to put the needs and interests of our children at the centre of the tough decisions to come."

New Zealand Nurses Organisation president Anne Daniels, of Dunedin, declined to comment last night.

The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners has backed mandatory vaccinations in the health and disability sector.



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