The government announced Monday that most New Zealand health care workers and teachers will soon have to be vaccinated against coronavirus.
Doctors, pharmacists, community nurses, and other health care workers must be fully vaccinated before December under a new mandate. Teachers and other educators must be fully vaccinated before January.
Chris Hipkins, COVID-19 Response Minister, stated that many of those in these professions had received their vaccines already but they could not leave anything to chance because they deal with young children and sick patients who haven’t been approved for the vaccine.
Hipkins stated, “It’s not an easy choice, but we need people who work in vulnerable communities who haven’t been vaccinated yet to make this extra step.”
Many New Zealanders are required to get vaccinated if they work in New Zealand.
This announcement comes as New Zealand fights an epidemic of highly transmissible delta variants in Auckland, its largest city.
Initial responses from groups representing affected workers were supportive of the mandate.
“Given the rapid rate at which delta spreads throughout our country,” stated Dr. Samantha Murton of The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.
Prime Minister Jacinda ardern stated Monday that Auckland would remain in lockdown for at most another week. However, the Waikato and Northland regions could be released from lockdown on Thursday if there is no evidence of significant spread of the virus in these areas.
Since the outbreak was first discovered, Auckland has been under lockdown for almost two months. On Monday, 35 new cases of the disease were discovered in Auckland. This brings the total number affected to just over 1,600.
Ardern admitted last week that the virus was still in New Zealand and would not be eradicated by lockdowns or contact tracing. This had been done in previous outbreaks.
Ardern has been encouraging people to get vaccinated in order for the country to reopen.
The government plans a Super Saturday vaccination drive this weekend. It is similar to an Election Day. Vaccination centers will be open all day, and even into the night, during the Super Saturday.
Nearly 68% of New Zealanders have received at least one dose and 47% are fully vaccinated. The figures for those 12 years and older rise to 82%, 57% and 57%, respectively.
Monday’s announcement by the government included an advance purchase agreement for 60,000 units of a new experimental pill from drugmaker Merck. This is subject to approval by New Zealand regulators.
Molnupiravir, the pill, will be the first to treat COVID-19 if it is approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration.