Mandatory Vaccination Order for Nurses

On October 11, the Government announced that it is revising legislation to make COVID-19 vaccination compulsory for ‘high risk’ workers in the health and disability sectors. The Order that makes these changes has now been passed.

This Order legally came into effect at 11:59pm on October 25, and requires every nurse to:

  • receive their first vaccine dose by 15 November 2021; and
  • be fully vaccinated by 1 January 2022.
Some exemptions will be available; for example, those who cannot be vaccinated for personal health reasons.

The above dates replace the deadlines initially announced by the COVID-19 Response Minister on October 11.

Does this Order cover all nurses?

The Order covers most nurses. The original Order issued on Friday 22 October covered all regulated health practitioners, no matter where they worked.

On Friday 5 November, the government amended the Order to only cover “health practitioners providing health services to patients in person”. This means that nurses who do not practise in face-to-face/ kanohi-ki-te-kanohi settings are no longer required to be vaccinated by the above dates. For example, nurses working in telehealth are not included in the Order. Nurses who do not provide health services to patients – for example, those who work in the area of nursing policy and professional advice – are also excluded from the Order.

The COVID-19 Response Minister has also now announced specific requirements for staff and people who work in prison settings, including health practitioners. Earlier deadlines of 6 November (for dose 1) and 8 December 2021 (for full vaccination) apply to this group. For nurses, these dates apply only to being able to work in corrections facilities and/or with prisoners; the dates above will apply to your work in other areas. If your practice involves working both inside and outside prisons, or with prisoners outside such facilities, we recommend you talk to your employer(s) or contracting agency as soon as possible to clarify the requirements that apply to you.

I don’t work for a DHB; does this Order apply to me?

Yes. The Order applies whether or not you are working in the public health system, a for-profit company, or a charity or other non-government organisation. It also applies if you are self-employed.

I'm not currently working as a nurse; does this Order apply to me?

The Nursing Council understands that this Order only applies if you are actively practising as a nurse. For example, if you are currently taking a break from nursing and working in another job the Order will not cover you as a nurse.

However, nursing is not the only profession covered by this and other mandatory vaccination orders. For example, many health and disability care assistants will be covered by the Order, and if you are registered in another regulated health profession then the Order will apply to any work you do in that capacity.

If you are unsure whether or not the Order is likely to apply to you, talk to your employer, union, or professional association, or contact the Ministry of Health.

Do I need to provide evidence of my vaccination status to the Nursing Council?

No. The Nursing Council is not responsible for checking vaccination status. You will need to provide evidence of your vaccination status to your employer.

Do I have to be vaccinated to register as a nurse or renew my APC?

The Nursing Council understands that this Order only applies to practising as a nurse. You may join the Register or renew your registration – subject to the normal requirements – without being vaccinated. However, you will not be able to work as a nurse.

The Nursing Council strongly encourages all nurses to be fully vaccinated as soon as possible, whatever their employment or registration status.

What if I believe I should be exempted from these requirements?

Some people with serious health conditions will be exempt from this Order. This will require evidence from an appropriate health practitioner. A very limited set of other exemptions also exist. If you believe an exemption may apply to you, we recommend that you discuss this with your employer as soon as possible.

What happens if I breach the mandatory vaccination Order?

This Order has legal authority, and legislation sets down specific penalties for not complying. This will also have implications for your current employment.

Complying with relevant legislation is part of both the Council’s code of conduct, and the competencies for each scope of practice. Failing to observe this order if it applies to you may therefore be grounds for a formal complaint or referral of a conviction, and lead to disciplinary proceedings under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003.

How is the Nursing Council involved in this Order?

This Order has been put in place by the Government, not the Nursing Council. The Council was consulted by the Ministry of Health during preparation of their advice to the Minister and Cabinet on this issue.

The Council has no role in monitoring nurses’ vaccination status and is not involved in directly investigating or enforcing compliance with this Order. Doing so is the responsibility of your employer, the Ministry of Health, and other agencies. However, as noted above, non-compliance with this order may be grounds for a complaint or referral of a conviction to the Council about a nurse. This would be investigated in the same way as any other complaint or conviction that is referred to the Council.

I’d like to know more about this Order

The Ministry of Health has released a guidance document to help practitioners and employers work with the Order. This will be continuously updated, and the latest version can be found at https://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/pages/health_worker_vaccination_guidance_document_for_pcbus_and_workers_-_october_2021_1.pdf  

The COVID-19 Response Minister’s initial press release announcing this order is available at https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/mandatory-vaccination-two-workforces  

The Minister’s press release on October 23 announcing the new deadlines for vaccination is available at https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/expanded-vaccination-order-health-and-disability-education-and-prison-workers

The Order itself can be found at https://www.legislation.govt.nz/regulation/public/2021/0325/latest/LMS579320.html

For further information about how this Order might affect your practice or your workplace, talk to your employer.

For further information about the Order itself, contact the Ministry of Health or see their website at www.health.govt.nz

Is there anything else I need to know?

We have released a guidance statement on vaccination and the professional responsibilities of nurses. You can find this here.

The Council firmly believes that vaccination is a critical part of Aotearoa New Zealand’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting your COVID-19 vaccination not only helps protect yourself, but also your patients, your whānau, and the wider community. We strongly recommend that all nurses take up the opportunity to be vaccinated unless there are clear medical reasons not to do so.