Hundreds of thousands of education and health staff - including teachers, GPs, pharmacists and nurses - will need to be fully vaccinated in the coming months or face losing their jobs.
The two-dose deadline for high-risk health and disability staff is December 1 this year, and for education - including all school and ECE staff who come into contact with students - it is January 1 next year.
Secondary schools, from next year, will also be required to keep a register to show the vaccination status of students.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, who is also the Education Minister, has just revealed Cabinet's decision on mandatory vaccinations for workers in the education and healthcare sectors.
"It's not an easy decision, but we need the people who work with vulnerable communities who haven't yet been vaccinated to take this extra step," he said.
"Exemptions may be possible under some circumstances."
Healthcare workers will have to be fully vaccinated by December 1 this year, and will need to have had their first dose by October 30.
The public health order requiring this will include general practitioners, pharmacists, community health nurses, midwives, paramedics, and all healthcare workers in sites where vulnerable patients are treated (including Intensive Care Units).
"These requirements also include certain non-regulated healthcare work, such as aged residential care, home and community support services, kaupapa Māori health providers and NGOs who provide health services," Hipkins said.
The full list will be provided in the next few days.
Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said he has a high level of confidence that health staff will get vaccinated, particularly those in isolated communities.
He said he has not thought about an exemption process, and he would consider each case individually.
All staff at schools and ECEs who have contact with children and students will need to have a first dose by November 15, and to be fully vaccinated by January 1.
"This includes home-based educators, and all those support people in our schools and early learning services such as teacher-aides, administration and maintenance staff and contractors," Hipkins said.
"Secondary schools and kura will also be required to keep a Covid-19 vaccination register for students. Students that do not produce evidence of vaccination will be considered unvaccinated."
Parents volunteering at schools will also need to be fully vaccinated.
Hipkins said all school employees in Auckland and other level 3 regions will be required to return a negative Covid-19 test before they can return to work onsite.
"Those who are not fully vaccinated in the period leading up to January 1, 2022, will also be required to undergo weekly Covid-19 testing."
The Ministry of Education will work closely with smaller schools in isolated communities, Hipkins said. Those in rural areas were just as at risk as people living in cities, and that was a message that would be pushed in schools.
Hipkins said the ministry is used to supporting schools that have short-term staffing needs, and will continue to do that.
Students are not required to get vaccinated, Hipkins said. Officials are conscious a significant number of children cannot be vaccinated currently, although they urged all who were eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
The Government had taken the view that unvaccinated people should not be excluded from education.
Hipkins noted there has been a positive vaccination "uptick" in recent weeks as schools work with local health providers.
The Government was still considering whether mandatory vaccinations will be required in the tertiary education sector.
While there had been support for mandatory vaccinations for these workforces, there has also been some pushback.
The NZ Council of Trade Unions has previously cautioned that a blanket vaccination order could do more harm than good because it might create a sense of coercion.
And more than 5000 people have signed a petition asking for no mandatory vaccinations, which has been submitted to Parliament.
This morning a number of health and youth experts, in an Otago University public health blogpost, called for a clear strategy to minimise any infections in school settings.
These included mandatory vaccination for all adults on school sites - and no on-site learning to start before 90 per cent vaccination coverage for staff - regular staff testing, vaccination events in schools, and guidelines on ventilation, physical distancing and mask use.
Schools in Auckland had been earmarked to open from October 18, pending public health advice.
ECE centres in Auckland opened last week, but restricted to bubbles of 10 people, and subject to availability - some centres were already at bubble capacity because essential workers could already drop their kids off at ECE centres.
Medical bodies back mandatory vax call
The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners has backed the call for mandatory vaccinations for those in the health and disability sector.
"As health professionals, we need to ensure the safety of our patients, communities, and colleagues," said college president Dr Samantha Murton.
"Given the speed at which Delta is spreading throughout our country, this is a bold, but necessary call to make.
"The people who work in these two sectors are working in close contact with our most vulnerable members of the community; those who are too young to be vaccinated or who have significant underlying medical conditions.
"While most GPs are already fully vaccinated, now is the time to make one final push to be fully vaccinated before 1 December 2021. This means our GPs need to have their first dose by 30 October to be fully vaccinated by the deadline."
The NZ Medical Association has also welcomed the announcement, with chair Dr Alistair Humphrey saying the move will keep patients and healthcare workers safe.
"Today's announcement will save lives," he said.
"All doctors should be vaccinated, and we know the vast majority is. Principle 1 of the Code of Ethics for the New Zealand Medical Profession is that the health and well-being of the patient is a doctor's first priority."
Doctors and other healthcare workers are more likely to be exposed to Covid-19 in the course of their work, he said.
It follows that their patients, many of whom are debilitated or immunocompromised, are more likely to suffer serious complications if they are infected by the doctor.
"We called a month ago for all doctors involved in patient care to be fully vaccinated – we're pleased the Government has come to the same view."
ProCare, New Zealand's largest network of primary healthcare professionals, also welcomed mandatory vaccinations for healthcare workers.
Chief executive Bindi Norwell said it was something ProCare had been advocating for in order to protect doctors, nurses, practice managers and the thousands of patients that enter general practices every year.
"This is about providing certainty for patients and ensuring that we protect some of the most vulnerable patients that our practices see. We also hope that it will mean that patients will feel safe to visit their doctor, rather than putting off a visit until it's absolutely necessary.
"It will also provide certainty for the healthcare sector in terms of a legislated approach; so that everyone knows where they stand, what the rules are and that there will be no areas of confusion."
Businesses 'would welcome' order - Barnett
Mandatory vaccination for education, health workers, and associated services is an important principle that should hold for all workplaces striving to keep their employees and customers safe and healthy, says Michael Barnett, CEO of the Auckland Business Chamber.
"If no jab no job is to be the rule for selected people-facing services by government order, then it certainly is a principle that business owners would welcome also by government order, as well as enabling urgent access to rapid testing technologies to better manage and reduce risks."
Barnett said it was extremely disappointing that Auckland remains in a holding pattern with no easing of any restrictions as the virus sets the pace and leaks continue at the border.