While the Government’s Covid-19 vaccination mandates have triggered resistance from some groups, for others, it’s encouraged them to “confront” the idea and get advice, the Prime Minister says.
Jacinda Ardern’s comments come after her travels were disrupted by protesters for the second day in a row. Ardern is touring rural areas to support the Covid-19 vaccination rollout and was in Whanganui on Wednesday.
When asked if mandates had been harmful to social cohesion and could have led to others hardening their beliefs against vaccination, Ardern said that wasn’t the case for all people.
“There are those for whom it has had the other effect — it’s caused them, where they’ve had questions, to confront those to go and have conversations,” she said.
"We had the experience of having already rolled this out for our border workers. What we noticed was, by putting a date, it did cause those who had questions to go and seek advice, talk to trusted health professionals, and then make a decision.
"So, yes, in these areas now, we are forcing those decisions to be made. But, I hope that also means people are actually accessing the information they need to make it."
1News spoke to protesters in Whanganui earlier on Wednesday. Among them was a teacher who didn’t want to get vaccinated.
The Government is requiring school and early learning staff in contact with children to be fully vaccinated by January 1, 2022 . Some principals estimate that directive could mean a few thousand across the sector could be at risk of losing their jobs.
Earlier this year, Ardern and Covid-19 Response Minister indicated Covid-19 vaccinations would not be made compulsory for all Kiwis.
That was despite a 1News poll in September showing 44 per cent of people believed Covid-19 vaccinations should be made mandatory for all New Zealanders aged 12 and over. A further 17 per cent wanted it to be mandatory for New Zealanders aged 18 and over.
"We believe that we can talk about the vaccine on its merits, the difference that it makes to people’s lives, their health, their livelihood, without taking that extraordinary step [of compulsory vaccination]," Ardern said at the time.
When asked on Wednesday if vaccine mandates for some professions, covering about 40 per cent of the country’s workforce, contradicted her earlier statements, Ardern said the Government’s position had not changed.
In each case that a mandate had been introduced in a workplace, there were strong public health reasons for it, Ardern said. For example, teachers needed to be vaccinated because younger students aren’t yet eligible for the Pfizer jab.
"This is about certain workforces and workplaces, where we've applied assessment on whether or not we have a duty of care to look after those most vulnerable,” she said.
"We've guarded against requiring vaccines where we need to ensure that people are always, no matter what, they are able to access health services, food, Government support.
“We have been very clear, we will not require nor will we ever require vaccine certificates to access food, Government benefits, access services that people need to live."
Ardern said she did not take the protests personally and she wasn't surprised to see some resistance.
"We are at a state in the vaccine rollout where we are trying to reach communities that may hold firm views.
"But, we need to have those conversations," she said.
When asked why she did not attend her scheduled visit near the Whanganui Caltex where the protesters had congregated, Ardern said the purpose of her trip was to encourage people to get their jabs.
"It becomes counterproductive if then people congregate in a way that stops people’s access [to get vaccinated].”
The Prime Minister had then planned to visit a vaccine clinic visit nearby. That, too, was cancelled due to protest activity.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister's media event in Kawakawa, Northland was briefly halted after a man with ties to a far-right online talk show twice interrupted her. A woman was also heard singing and yelling in the background.
The talk show has links to a media group founded by former Trump administration adviser Steve Bannon.