Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Hospitals reach out to unvaccinated workers as deadline looms

By Rowan Quinn of RNZ

Hospitals are holding one-on-one interviews with workers holding out on the Covid-19 vaccine to try to persuade them to get it before they lose their job.

From Tuesday, any district health board (DHB) worker who has not had a first vaccine dose will be stood down unless they have had an exemption.

But the vaccine mandate goes much further than the 80,000 employees, covering all contractors and volunteers, making it a huge logistical job for DHBs.

That included tens of thousands of people contracted to make hospital meals, provide linen, drive patients or build negative pressure rooms.

Counties Manukau DHB human resources director Elizabeth Jeffs this week told a board meeting she was quite anxious about the number of people they had to check.

“It’s everyone who comes on site, pretty much, from the taxi driver through to the chief executive.”

Any worker or volunteer who could come within two metres of a patient or a medical staff member for 15 minutes or more had to be vaccinated.

But the mandate did not apply to patients or visitors, with DHBs keen to stress people should still come to hospital or a clinic if they needed to.

Jeffs said she had been in touch with major contractors and with every manager responsible for people who could be coming to Middlemore or other DHB clinics.

“Our volunteers, our bereavement people, researchers, everyone who needs to come on to any site,” she said.

“Whether that is to fix a toaster, the air con, whatever that is.”

DHBs were talking to unvaccinated staff this week to either persuade them to have the two doses, or to work out a plan if they did not want to.

Nurses Organisation spokeswoman Glenda Alexander said the overwhelming majority of nurses were vaccinated.

However, the union had fielded up to 20 calls a day this week from nurses still deciding what to do.

It was a tough time not to have a job, she said.

“I think there will be people who go right to the wire and then will probably concede.”

However, there would still be some who would hold out, she said.

They may be able to be shifted to non-contact roles like telehealth, but there would not be alternative roles for everyone and it would be sad to lose them from the health workforce, she said.

At the start of the week, there were 4000 DHB staff nationally who had not been vaccinated, but a spokesperson for the DHBs said people were continuing to be vaccinated throughout the week.

None of the country’s district health board would be interviewed about their progress or their plans.

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