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Apparently there is a difference between a COVID vaccine “mandate”, and a “requirement”

In brief

  • Despite ending COVID mandates, many institutions, especially in healthcare, still have COVID vaccination rules.
  • For example, the University of Otago “requires” (but says that isn’t a  mandate) proof of COVID vaccinations for health students with patient contact. 
  • The policy aligns with Te Whatu Ora’s “expectation” for some workers to be vaccinated.
  • Would young students understand the distinctions or be up to the expected flack if they chose to stand their ground?  

Many institutions still “require” COVID vaccinations 

New Zealand scrapped formal COVID mandates back in September 2022, but there are many institutions, particularly those in the healthcare sector, which continue to uphold stringent vaccination requirements. 

This is true of many universities. A case in point is the University of Otago’s Division of Health Sciences, where COVID vaccinations remain a “requirement” for many students. 

The university’s stance on COVID vaccinations is outlined in its Policy on Infectious Diseases for Health Professional Students. This policy applies to students enrolled in professional health courses who will have direct patient contact or exposure to bodily fluids during their coursework.

Apparently there is a difference between a COVID vaccine “mandate”, and a “requirement” - Centrist
“Mandatory” vs “Expected” vs “Required”…what’s the difference?

According to the university’s policy, students are “required” to provide documented proof of all three COVID vaccine doses, including vaccination dates. 

“​​For COVID vaccines the aim is to protect against severe illness and in otherwise healthy adults less than 50 years of age current evidence indicates that this protection is retained after 3 doses for at least 2 years.” 

Alignment with Te Whatu Ora COVID pre-employment policy

The university bases its “requirement” off Te Whatu Ora’s pre employment COVID policy. This wider policy states that workers, who are at higher risk due to contact with clinical environments, are “expected” to be fully vaccinated for COVID. According to this policy an expectation is a step below a mandate. 

Te Whatu Ora’s policy further states that:

“(W)orkers unable or unwilling to be fully vaccinated must undergo a risk assessment process to determine necessary mitigations before starting work or training.”

The effective result is that the policy does allow for accommodations, which includes a risk assessment and fit-testing for N95 mask use for under-vaccinated students. However, a first year student that Centrist spoke to was unaware of any option to refuse a COVID vaccination and was concerned about not being able to go on placement should they do so. 

How many young students would understand the differences between similar sounding terms like “required”, “expected”, “mandatory”, etc. regarding vaccinations? 

If they do, is it realistic to expect them to stand their ground if they feel strongly about it?
The university plans to review its policy in August 2024. Some observers feel that these policies may not be keeping pace with new information on the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccinations.

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