Authorities have processed almost 100 applications by healthcare workers seeking a medical exemption from the Covid-19 vaccination mandate.
Since the vaccination mandate came into effect at the start of the week until Thursday 10am, 97 applications had been processed. Of these 16 were declined and 81 were approved for a six-month exemption, a Ministry of Health spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, two businesses with “significantly large workforces” were given a temporary seven-day exemption, granted by Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, while 66 other applications for a significant service disruption exemption were declined.
As of Monday midnight, all education and healthcare workers should have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
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The mandate covers health workers, teachers and support staff who have any contact with children or students, as well as early childhood centre staff and home-based educators.
These workers are mandated to be fully vaccinated by January 1, 2022.
Exemptions were limited to cases where a suitable alternative to the Covid-19 vaccine was not yet available. According to the Ministry of Health website, it would be granted for a specified time, reflecting the time needed, for example, to recover from a clinical condition, or for alternate vaccines to become available.
A last-ditch High Court challenge questioning the validity of the mandate failed on Friday, but protests continued last week.
As of 9am on Wednesday, 1309 unvaccinated healthcare staff had been stood down of which 463 were nurses and at least 67 midwives, data released by district health boards showed.
It has been estimated that the mandate has led about 700 teachers and up to 2400 health workers to leave their jobs.
Meanwhile, more than 80,000 district health board workers have been vaccinated.
The exemption applications were processed by the panel run by the ministry and recommendations were made to the Director0General of Health, the spokesperson said.
They said the Ministry of Health was “acutely aware of the need for continuity of the health and disability workforce, particularly midwives,” during the transition to a fully vaccinated workforce.
“It is critical for staff working in these key sectors to be vaccinated, especially when significant numbers of the people they work with are particularly vulnerable to the Delta variant of Covid-19.”
Additional relocation support was introduced for locum midwives, who relocated for eight weeks or more, to assist with any shortages due to the mandate.
The spokesperson said where a “critical service could be interrupted”, the ministry would consider an employer’s application for a “temporary significant service disruption” exemption.
An employer could make an application to the ministry for individual employees and was required to provide evidence that all other avenues for the continuity of their business had been exhausted before applying.