By Rachel Thomas of RNZ
Twenty-one frontline workers have refused the Covid-19 jab, three weeks into the vaccine rollout programme.
The head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ), Brigadier Jim Bliss, confirmed the figures after anecdotal reports more than a week ago of staff refusing the jab.
A total of 12,709 of the 15,200-strong workforce in MIQ facilities and at the border have so far received the vaccine.
Brigadier Bliss told RNZ staff have a right to refuse the vaccine, but there are ramifications.
"We go through an education process and we also have a discussion with their employer about the next steps for them and that's a further conversation with the worker."
He said all staff get educated about the vaccine but those who decline get extra information.
"We're strongly encouraging all of our workforce in MIQ and the border to be vaccinated and if not, there has to be a conversation about whether that worker is redeployed in the organisation, or what the next steps are. Hopefully we'll get them on-side and vaccinated as part of the workforce."
Bliss said if frontline staff continue to refuse, there would be discussions with the worker's employer over whether they could be redeployed elsewhere.
"As we continue through the vaccination process we'll get greater understanding of what the full picture is around those who have chosen not to be immunised."
He expected the number of vaccinated frontline staff to grow as workers return from leave or rotate through shift patterns.
He said despite the handful of refusals, the uptake was otherwise reassuring and said frontline staff were doing the country a great service.
"It's a great result so far," Bliss said.
"Border and MIQ staff have now supported more than 120,000 people to safely cross the border to life in New Zealand, all while protecting our communities.
"Every day they go to work and put themselves between us and this virus. It's thanks to them that we're all able to enjoy the freedoms and quality of life we currently do."
The next step is giving staff their second and final dose as there must be a three-week standown between shots.
Vaccinating the 50,000 family members or household contacts of frontline staff began in the past week and "uptake is strong so far". He was unable to provide figures on how many household contacts had refused shots so far.
The Government was on track to have all frontline staff who agree to the vaccine immunised by early April, Brigadier Bliss said.
Indian community members call for more info on vaccine side-effects
Members of Auckland's Indian community want the Ministry of Health to better inform people about the possible side-effects of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Auckland Indian Association president Narendra Bhana, who has praised the Covid-19 messaging so far, said people wanted to know more before signing up for the next step in the response.
Some frontline workers in South Auckland, who are next in line for the jab, are of Indian descent, and still hold reservations about it, he said.
He said improved communication about the side-effects would reassure people so they get the vaccine.
"The education about the vaccine is something the Ministry of Health needs to improve on, people are a little bit reserved because they're not sure about the side effects of the vaccine. It's a very [small] minority there but it still does need to be dealt with."
Auckland has an Indian population of about 200,000, he said.