After nearly two decades working as a nurse at a public hospital in Northland, Jill Mortimer is suddenly in the unenviable position of leaving the job she loves.
She is among 37 nurses employed by the Northland District Health Board who have been stood down because they had not had their first dose of Covid vaccination by Monday's deadline.
NDHB has stood down 104 staff across the region as at Wednesday morning, including 37 nurses, eight midwives, and three senior medical officers, who did not meet the Government's vaccination mandate, which dictated all DHB staff must have had their first dose by 11.59pm on Monday.
Waikato DHB had the highest number of staff stood down, with 154, followed by Bay of Plenty (123) and Counties Manukau (119).
However, the DHBs with the highest proportion of unvaccinated staff stood down were Northland, Taranaki, Nelson-Marlborough and West Coast — all on 4 per cent.
Just over 1300 DHB unvaccinated staff from around the country have been stood down.
NDHB said minimising any impact to services included careful staff rostering and close monitoring of any areas where there may be a shortage of employees.
Mortimer has been working at Whangārei Hospital's emergency department for 17 years and is adamant that although she was fully vaccinated for flu and other illness, she would not get the Covid vaccine.
"As is my practice, I like to be well informed so I looked at the evidence around Covid vaccines and I was concerned. When I looked at the stats, I was more concerned."
She said the Nursing Council of New Zealand, the regulatory authority responsible for the registration of nurses, ordered her and other nurses not to say anything negative to patients about the Covid-19 vaccinations.
"I looked at what the vaccination was and how long it stayed in the body. Pfizer is an experimental medication that we are giving to the general population and this is contrary to everything we've done in medication," she claimed.
Auckland University vaccinologist Associate Professor Helen Petousis-Harris recently told the Advocate's sister publication the NZ Herald Pfizer vaccine trials for efficacy and safety were achieved late in 2020.
They were no longer experimental once authorised for use. She said there had been a misunderstanding among some that because the trial end date is 2023, the vaccine must be "experimental". The end date is to allow for other endpoints, one example being the effect booster doses.
Mortimer also has an unvaccinated family member working for NDHB who will also lose their job.
The Nursing Council did not answer specific questions but referred the Northern Advocate to its guidance statement in which it strongly recommends all practising nurses to be vaccinated.
The council said nurses have a role in providing evidence-based advice and information about Covid vaccination to others.
They should be prepared to discuss evidence-based information about vaccination and its benefits to assist informed decision making, the council said.
"As a regulator, we respect an individual's right to have their own opinions, but it is the council's view that there is no place for anti-vaccination messages in professional health practice, nor any promotion of anti-vaccination claims including on social media and advertising by health practitioners."
NDHB Covid-19 incident controller Mark McGinley said ensuring continuity of safe patient care was their absolute focus.
Of the six staff who have been stood down in the cancer and blood service, five are nurses.
"We have contingencies in place and no patients are being delayed for their chemotherapy treatment because of this. We work closely with our metro DHB colleagues to ensure the sustainable delivery of the cancer and blood service," McGinley said.
He said a further update would be provided next week, including how many more staff have been stood down.
About 96 per cent of nurses employed by NDHB are members of the New Zealand Nursing Organisation, which is supporting the unvaccinated members who have been stood down.
Organiser Julie Governor said NZNO supported vaccinating the health workforce, but whether or not to get vaccinated was a personal choice.
"Some will retire early, we'll explore redeployment options for others but they are very limited. We don't want to lose staff because the workforce is already stretched, hospitals are overwhelmed," she said.
Chairwoman of the New Zealand College of Midwives (NZCM) in Northland, Christine Byrne, said although her members have been stood down, the college did not want people to think the appropriate level of care would not be provided.
"People are taking on more hours, others caseloads before the end of last week, and more shifts and whether that's sustainable, that's yet to be seen."
NZCM has about 80 members in Northland.