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Only healthcare-related workers granted group vaccine exemptions during COVID

In brief
  • During COVID, the Ministry of Health approved 11,000+ Significant Service Disruption (SSD) exemptions, allowing healthcare workers to remain unvaccinated.
  • Meanwhile, all SSD exemption applications from other eligible groups were denied.
  • It is not clear who, within the health sector, received the exemptions.
  • NZ First’s Winston Peters says it’s evidence of “deception and discrimination” and not just a conspiracy theory.

Thousands of exemptions granted to healthcare-related workers

During COVID, unbeknownst to many, Health New Zealand was exempting thousands of health-related workers from mandatory vaccination orders, albeit these were only temporary exemptions.

From the time vaccine mandates began, in November 2021, to September 2022, over 11,000 health workers received exemptions under section 12A of the (now revoked) COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Amendment Order.

12A exemptions were also known as Significant Service Disruption exemptions (SSDs).

Healthcare workers receiving COVID vaccine exemption
Thousands of temporary exemptions, but only for health-related workers.

Under the section, SSD exemptions could be applied for by employers overseeing health care workers, prison workers and education service related workers. The “PCBU” (person in charge of a business or undertaking) could apply for the exemptions on behalf of employees to prevent a disruption in the delivery of work and services.

OIAs reveal that 478 SSD exemption applications were considered. But only 103 applications, and only from health-related workers’ groups (covering 11,000+ people) were approved. The SSD exemptions lasted up to six months.

All other applications were declined for one reason or another.

When asked if any doctors were included in this group, lawyer Liz Lambert, who is handling cases involving workers taking action over job losses due to refusing vaccination orders, says this information is not yet available.

According to an affidavit made on behalf of Health New Zealand by Rachel Mackey (Group Manager, Operations, National Immunisation Programme):

“Significant service disruption exemptions are specific to the exempted person’s work and do not transfer to their vaccine pass required under the COVID-19 Protection Framework.”

Criticism by NZ First’s Winston Peters

NZ First leader Winston Peters told journalist Chris Lynch that the disclosure showed deception and was “not just a matter of conspiracy theorists going down a rabbit hole”.

News of the otherwise unknown numbers of exemptions, exclusive to health-related workers, “shows the discrimination where people were just mandated out of their jobs whilst these exemptions were taking place,” he said.

Other vaccination exemptions: 9B Temporary Medical Exemptions

Under 9B of the same order, over the same time frame, a September 2023 OIA revealed that more than 6400 people were granted Temporary Medical Exemptions (TMEs) from nearly 8300 applications received by the Ministry of Health.

It’s possible there may be some overlap between who received a TME and those covered by an SSD exemption. It’s also possible many people who received exemptions still opted to get vaccinated.

The vast majority (5600) of 9B exemptions were granted as a result of the applicant having had a COVID infection.

Employer and occupation information about those granted TMEs was not collected as part of the TME application process.

Both 12A SSD and 9B TME applications were decided on by respective expert panels, but subject to the Director General of Health.

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