On 11 October 2021, the Government announced that the Health and Disability sector and Education sector are going to be covered by the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021. We are waiting on the details of the Order but what we know from the Government Press Release is that:
- The Government considers the education and health and disability workforce are in high-risk roles because they work with vulnerable communities who cannot be vaccinated or have not yet been vaccinated.
- The Order will be updated to require anyone conducting high-risk work in the health and disability sector to have had their first dose of the vaccine by 30 October 2021 and be fully vaccinated by 1 December 2021. The Order covers general practitioners, pharmacists, community health nurses, midwives, paramedics and all healthcare workers in sites where vulnerable patients are treated. It also covers those working in aged residential care, home and community support services, Kaupapa Māori health providers and Non-Government Organisations providing health services.
- Captured roles in the education sector include those in schools and early learning services. Providers will need to have their first dose of the vaccine by 15 November 2021. From 1 January 2022, providers will need to ensure only vaccinated staff and support people have contact with children and students.
- The Order includes schools, early childhood education providers, home-based educators and all those support people in schools and early learning services.
- School employees in Alert Level 3 are required to return negative COVID-19 tests before returning to school.
- There will be requirements to maintain a vaccination register.
While the announcement raised a lot of questions, it has also provided a number of answers to the questions employers in these sectors have been grappling with. Those in the sector have been fielding questions from parents and families and have been trying to navigate the fine lines between health and safety, personal autonomy and individual rights.
As we wait for the exact wording of the updated Order, our key advice is: do not make rash decisions. Please remember your employment rights and obligations still exist. An employer who is relying on the mandate still needs to consult with workers as to what this means for them and their workplace, and follow a fair and reasonable process in the event a person chooses not to be vaccinated (and is not covered by an exception under the Order).
Get advice early if this change to the Order impacts you as an employer or an employee.