Hundreds of NZ health workers unvaccinated facing deadline

NZ health workers vaccine deadline
New Zealand DHBs met with health workers yesterday and many offered the chance for last-minute vaccinations. Image: RNZ File

By Rowan Quinn, RNZ News health correspondent

About 2000 New Zealand district health board workers had not been vaccinated 15 hours before the deadline to lose their jobs.

From today no one can work in healthcare unless they have had at least one dose of the covid-19 vaccine or are exempt from the government mandate.

Unite Union’s Gerard Hehir represents six Waikato Hospital orderlies who have decided to quit.

They had a last minute meeting with the district health board (DHB) yesterday, one of a series over the past few weeks.

“People have been given the opportunity to think about it, respond, have some time, offered more information,” he said.

Even though they could not work from today, they would have one more meeting this week, a chance to change their minds before their contracts were terminated, he said.

Other DHBs also met with workers yesterday, with most offering the chance for last minute vaccinations.

Numbers unclear
It was still unclear how many people have made the same choice as the Waikato orderlies.

A spokesperson representing all district health boards said at 9am yesterday they estimated there were about 2 percent or 3 percent of their 80,000 staff nationally who were unvaccinated — between 1600 and 2400 people.

But it would be a few days before they knew the final number, she said.

That estimate did not count the tens of thousands of contractors who worked at hospitals, doing jobs like carpentry, food preparation or patient transport.

Counties Manukau DHB managers have been told they are responsible for checking every contractor who is coming on site to do work for their team.

The mandate went beyond DHBs to people working in the community – GPs, physiotherapists, psychologists, midwives, chiropractors and more.

The College of GPs medical director Dr Bryan Betty said it was also trying to get a gauge on how many of the country’s 5000 GPs were not vaccinated.

He knew of about 20, but also of nurses and receptionists who would lose their jobs.

Awaiting DHB figures
Nurse and midwife organisations were also waiting on DHB figures to find out how their professions were impacted.

Nurses Organisation Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said there was a small number out of the roughly 50,000 nurses working around the country.

She knew personally of six who were still holding out but also of some who had been reluctant then realised their jobs were more important and got vaccinated.

College of Midwives chief executive Alison Eddy said she worried about losing any midwife from the workforce, because it was already so stretched.

Hehir said the union was supporting its workers but it did back the mandate.

When it surveyed its DHB workers, for every vaccine hesitant response, there were many more from those who said they would be uncomfortable working with unvaccinated people.

“It is a real serious issue with people losing their jobs but it is also a very serious issue for people concerned about their health and the health of their families,” he said.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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