Saturday, April 20, 2024

Sector mulls staff vaccination options

Neal Wallace
The meat industry wants mandatory vaccination of processing staff against covid-19, but says it requires Government help to make that happen.
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RECOMMENDED: Dairy Companies Association chief executive Kimberly Crewther says dairy companies are strongly encouraging their people to get vaccinated, while it seeks greater Government guidance on mandatory vaccination.

The meat industry wants mandatory vaccination of processing staff against covid-19, but says it requires Government help to make that happen.

Meat Industry Association (MIA) chief executive Sirma Karapeeva says the industry is high-risk and the Government should extend the same protection to it as the recently announced mandatory vaccination for health and education sector employees.

“At present, our industry is unable to make vaccination a mandatory requirement for employees,” Karapeeva said.

“Although processors could look at making vaccination a health and safety requirement at plants, this is a difficult and complex process and would require companies to undertake an assessment of the different risks of vaccinated people versus unvaccinated people.” 

Karapeeva says meat companies operate under protocols to ensure continued operations do not compromise people’s safety or spread covid, including physical distancing, personal hygiene, increased cleaning, contact tracing, temperature checks and the use of personal protective equipment.

The association supports the use of rapid antigen tests so a proportion of workers can be tested each day, which will also enable a rapid response should an outbreak occur.

Dairy Companies Association (DCANZ) chief executive Kimberly Crewther says given the covid health risk potentially impacts all workplaces, the association is seeking greater Government guidance on mandatory vaccination, but in the meantime individual companies are making their own decisions based on health and safety policies.

“At the present time, dairy companies are strongly encouraging their people to get vaccinated,” Crewther said.

“DCANZ has noted with interest the Government’s extension of mandatory vaccination for the healthcare and education workforces, including to ensure that vulnerable people in these settings are protected.

“DCANZ members have been quick to implement existing Government mandates and will continue to support the implementation of government requirements to minimise health risks for their employees.”

Fonterra is encouraging staff to be vaccinated but is not making it mandatory.

“Therefore, the vaccine passport wouldn’t be mandatory in our workplaces,” a spokesperson said.

Dairy and meat companies have provided on-site vaccinations, offered incentives and partnered with health providers to promote clinics to lift low vaccination rates, especially for Māori employees.

The NZ Shearing Contractors Association is discussing how it can encourage vaccination among its workforce, which employs large numbers of Māori.

“On the surface, given the majority of our people are Tangata Whenua, it is perhaps something we could be able to do,” executive director Phil Holden said.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says in a statement that other sectors are seeking mandatory vaccination of staff.

“Other workforces beyond those already announced continue to be under consideration for mandatory vaccination,” Hipkins said.

The Rural GP Network reports vaccination rates among rural people are 11% lower than urban, and 10% lower for Māori than urban.

Nationally, as at October 11, 68% of New Zealanders have had their first vaccine and 48% their second.

Dunedin School of Medicine Associate Professor Garry Nixon notes vaccination rates are even worse for those living remote rural areas, at 19% below metropolitan and even lower for Māori.

“This is further evidence that a concerted effort needs to be made to improve access to vaccination for Māori communities, including those outside the major centres,” Nixon said.

NZ Rural General Practice Network chief executive Dr Grant Davidson says the inequities in rural vaccination rates is concerning.

“What is most concerning is that it confirms that the productive rural backbone of our country is significantly at risk,” Davidson said.

“Due to a lack of accessibility in rural NZ, it is no surprise that rural populations are lagging in vaccination rates.”

Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) deputy director-general of covid-19 response Andrew McConnell says exporters have protocols to prevent covid infecting food and food packaging.

MPI has met with the sector to ensure supply chains remain open and solicit suggestions on how to drive vaccinations in rural areas.

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