A public health expert is warning about the potential pitfalls of vaccine mandates as the final date for education and health workers to receive their first Pfizer jab looms.
From Monday the majority of health and disability and education workforces must have received one dose, and be fully vaccinated by January 1, 2022.
Prison and Corrections staff have already been mandated to receive their first dose of the vaccine by November 6, and their second is due by December 8.
Workers at the border and in MIQ settings are already required to be fully vaccinated.
While a majority of experts are in strong support of vaccine mandates as a tool to protect workers against infection, and to reduce transmission, one public health expert has claimed they have already caused "substantial harm and division in our country".
Auckland University of Technology (AUT) professor of public health Grant Schofield said mandates will lead to job losses among those unvaccinated, and that will put a strain on the health system.
"Come Monday I know of real teachers, real GPs, real mid-wives, real physios, real people without jobs," he said in a social media post yesterday.
These people were not "lunatic fringe anti-vaxxers" but "people often making their own rational decision", Schofield, who is fully vaccinated, said.
"We can predict that the exact thing we are trying to avoid, overwhelming the health system, is exactly what we are going to do by firing health workers.
"This will cause serious harm. It almost certainly will mean that our already overwhelmed health and education systems will not have the staff to carry out normal duties."
But University of Auckland Professor and Covid-19 modelling expert Shaun Hendy said only a small proportion of the population was not vaccinated.
"We do know that the large majority of adults have had at least one dose if not two, so it is a relatively small proportion of the population, and of course there are other jobs they can go do if they choose not to be vaccinated."
The latest Ministry of Health figures show 90 per cent of New Zealand's eligible population has received one dose, and 80 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Hendy acknowledged there could be potential issues with labour supply for unvaccinated people, but said it was common for workers to be expected to adhere to safety measures.
"There are all sorts of requirements for jobs that we put on people. If you're in a certain job you might need to wear glasses or wear contact lenses....we also ask people not to drink on the job because that puts other people at risk.
"I don't think this is any different."
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The Ministry of Health says health and disability, education and correctional workforces work with populations that either are unable to be vaccinated, are at increased risk of severe illness from Covid-19, or where outbreaks have occurred overseas.
It says vaccine passports are a "vital measure" for reducing infection and transmission, and "complete protection across these sectors is critical to the country's successful management of Covid-19".
"If you do get infected, [being vaccinated] makes it far less likely for you to pass it on to other people so there are good reasons for why in certain jobs you might want to mandate vaccination, particularly where you may be in contact with people who have underlying health conditions, or who are vulnerable," Hendy said.
When the country moves into the Government's new Covid-19 "traffic light" framework, people will be required to be vaccinated to enter certain "close proximity" locations, including hospitality, and their vaccination status will be proved using vaccine certificates.
It is estimated when this framework kicks in, the mandate will cover about 40 per cent of New Zealand's workforce.
Many other businesses, which can use their discretion around requiring vaccine certificates, are already discussing mandates with their workforces.