Reactions to the announcement this week that all school staff will need to be vaccinated were understandably mixed.
In a ruling - also affecting GPs, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, and others - school and early childhood staff who have contact with children must get their first vaccination by November 15, 2021, and a second by January 1, 2022.
While some principals expressed confidence most staff would comply, some teachers apparently took to social media to proclaim that they wouldn't. One petition opposing the vaccine mandate had more than 25,000 signatures by Monday night. A parents' group from a rural northwest Auckland school put up a sign with what to be an anti-vaccine message: "We support freedom of choice for our school, teachers and staff."
Across-the-board mandatory vaccinations are unpalatable for most New Zealanders but some occupations are clearly in areas where it is necessary. Teachers and school staff are such, and this is being recognised around the world.
Victoria requires all staff in government and non-government schools and all types of early childhood and care settings to be vaccinated by the end of November to continue working. In New South Wales all people working at a school or early education and care facility must be vaccinated by November 8.
The Northern Territory mandates vaccinations for all workers in high-risk settings which includes those who work (or come into contact with) people who cannot get vaccinated and includes all teachers and childcare workers. The state has been told borders will remain closed until this condition is met.
In the US state of Washington, all teachers and school personnel including, sports coaches, bus drivers and volunteers have been told they must be fully vaccinated by October 18 or risk losing their jobs.
Despite sometimes vocal opposition, there has been overwhelming compliance with mandated vaccination. Among North Carolina health workers, just 16 workers, or less than 0.2 per cent of the total workforce, had to be dismissed for refusing.
Across the US, some states have attempted to block mandatory vaccinations but those that have brought them in have also found widespread compliance. Hemi Tewarson, executive director of the US National Academy for State Health Policy, says, "overall, the states that have mandated vaccines have said, 'we really need to do this, and we don't think we'll have a huge loss in our workforce'."
There are jurisdictions that have dabbled with testing those who want to opt out but this hasn't proved successful. California initially allowed unvaccinated healthcare workers to take weekly Covid-19 tests, but rescinded the exemptions as cases increased.
Some New Zealand schools will have a staff member or two left outside when the school year starts but the impacts of this on learning should be compared with the risks of an unvaccinated faculty.
Those who cannot be protected against Covid must be given the best safeguards we can provide. Our children need this. Parents, schools, boards of trustees and communities know what must be done and have been given a generous amount of time to do it.
That's called certainty, and the Government has in the past been rightly criticised for not providing more of it.