Govt to consider extending vaccine mandate for firefighters

Source: 1News

The Government is considering extending the vaccine mandate deadline for firefighters which is due to kick in next week. It comes amid concerns from one union about the impact on the public if it goes ahead as planned.

In a statement to 1News, Fire and Emergency national commander Kerry Gregory said they still don’t know how many staff and volunteers aren’t vaccinated. “There is still a significant number of people who are yet to provide us with their vaccination status.”

“The Government is exploring options to ensure we have the firefighters we need to keep our communities safe, including the option of a temporary extension,” Gregory said. 1News understands the proposed extension is a couple of weeks.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says some sectors subject to vaccination orders have asked for extensions and he’s still awaiting advice in regards to Fire and Emergency. “We’ll consider that based on its merits.”

New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union secretary Wattie Watson says there’s already a shortage of firefighters and the impact of the mandate could be disastrous.

“It doesn't matter what a percentage of those firefighters that are unvaccinated, that will impact on those stations being able to get those stations being able to crew and get trucks out on time and on the road.”

Watson says she estimates around 300 career firefighters aren’t vaccinated and expects the number to be much higher for volunteers, possibly in the thousands. Many regional communities rely on the country’s 11,000 volunteer firefighters.

“In a volunteer brigade if you even got one person that is unvaccinated and now cannot respond, if they're the driver and they're the only qualified driver in that brigade that truck can't get out. So it's a crisis.”

From Tuesday, anyone working in a health or education setting will need at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and be fully vaccinated by next year.

While there isn’t a vaccine mandate for all of police, some officers will need to be vaccinated. But it is still unclear exactly who it applies to.

Police Minister Poto Williams says they are working “at pace” to work that out. “I don't have any further clarity I can give you except they need to understand that nature of the order, how it impacts staff, which roles are impacted and then advise their staff of that.”

Those impacted police staff will have slightly longer to be vaccinated. They will need to receive their first dose by November 29th and be fully vaccinated by January 14th.

St John deputy chief executive Emma Butler says more than 95 per cent of frontline staff are vaccinated and they don’t expect the mandate deadline to impact services.

“St John is confident it can continue to deliver and maintain ambulance services to meet demand throughout the Covid-19 delta outbreak and our contingency planning supports that.”

St John is still working through what the mandate means for non-frontline staff.