Auckland University epidemiologist Rod Jackson says the Government’s vaccination announcements today were “nowhere near brave enough”.
“Look, it’s a good start but … we need to go a lot further,” he told TVNZ. “Education and health are the obvious ones, but the police are also pretty obvious. I think supermarkets, I don’t want to go into a supermarket, and I’m worried about whether they’ve vaccinated. Actually hairdressers … that’s about as close a contact you’re going to get. And so I think hairdressers should be mandatory as well.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has just announced that hundreds of thousands of education and health staff – including teachers, GPs, pharmacists, nurses – will need to be fully vaccinated in the coming months or face losing their jobs. The Government also today kept Auckland’s Covid rules as they stand and signalled Northland and Waikato will drop to alert level 2 from Friday.
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 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, who is also the Education Minister, said it wasn”t an “easy decision” to make.
“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).
Jackson said the Government should have given businesses the mandate to demand mandatory vaccinations for staff. “I think the biggest gap by far today was not giving businesses, the mandate to introduce ‘no job, no job, no entry’ policies without being scared of being prosecuted.”
He said he was being contacted by businesses every day, seeking that mandate.
Jackson said he would not be making Christmas holiday plans unless the country got to a 95 per cent vaccination rate by early December.
“I don’t think I’d been making plans to leave home [for Christmas holidays], unless the Government brings in a much wider mandate … I mean we need everyone vaccinated before December, and if we got 95 per cent of the population vaccinated by December… yeah, then you can have a holiday.”
He said a 90 per cent vaccination rate was not good enough. “That leaves over 400,000 New Zealanders, who are eligible, unvaccinated. And the scariest thing is that 10 per cent of people are probably our highest-risk population. We’ve seen it overseas in the UK, 10 per cent of people were responsible for passing on 80 per cent of the infections.”
He said he was longer optimistic that Delta could be stamped out. “I’m not convinced we’ll stamp it out in Auckland anymore and it’s not because it’s not possible. It’s just that people are behaving badly as we’ve seen, the people going south to people going north, we’re not going to stamp it out. So, we’re now into heavy suppression, until we get vaccinated. I think it’s a race against time now.”
He urged people to get vaccinated tomorrow.
“That’s why I was disappointed that they didn’t go hard enough [today]. We need a much wider mandate from the government in terms of vaccinations; we needed that mandate for businesses. We have to go really hard, we have to go really fast. You know, my message is go and do it tomorrow. Don’t wait until next week or next month.
“I don’t think that the average New Zealander has to follow those [case] numbers every day. They just have to go and get vaccinated because that’s ultimately, our only defence against Covid.
“I’m making a plea to New Zealanders, not only as a scientist, but I’m also doing it as a husband, as a father, as a grandfather, as a friend, and as a colleague. We just have to go get vaccinated, so just go and do it.”
University of Otago’s Professor Nick Wilson back the Government’s alert level decision.
“It was disappointing, however, that the Government did not clarify its strategic direction concerning Auckland and the rest of the country … It was also of concern that there was no announcement about strengthening internal borders around Auckland to prevent spread to other regions,” Wilson said.
“For places like the South Island, we probably should be aiming to have some border controls so as to replicate the success of Tasmania, which has had no community cases for over 500 days.”
“The vaccine mandates were a very welcome move by the Government and these are well-targeted towards health and education workers who work with vulnerable populations. This is entirely justifiable from a duty-of-care perspective and is an increasingly common approach in other high-income countries, including Australia. For those health and education workers who refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19, there will often be alternative work roles available where they do not interact with the public.”
Dr Rawiri Jansen, clinical director at National Hauora Coalition, said all staff working on the frontline should be vaccinated.
“There are additional public health measures that should be mandated, and we need to elevate the focus from vaccine mandate to a public health suite of mandates. This includes scanning (or recording attendance), safe distancing, ventilation, masks, hygiene, and to stay at home if unwell,” Jansen said.
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