New Zealand port workers who could handle international cargo are refusing the Covid-19 vaccine, according to a health official from Gisborne.
Starting at midnight tonight, all managed isolation and quarantine workers must be vaccinated.
The same rule will apply to all government employees in other border roles considered high risk, but non-government workers in those other roles are not yet covered by the rule.
Stevedores are employed to load and unload container ships at ports across the country.
In the week starting February 27, when Gisborne began its rollout of vaccines to border workers, only four of 40 longshoremen were vaccinated, the region’s district health board said this week.
Hauora Tairāwhiti district health council director general Jim Green said more of these workers had since been vaccinated, but he was not sure how many.
Those who had so far denied the vaccine said it was their “human right” to refuse, while others just didn’t think it was necessary.
Green said longshoremen and most other maritime border workers in the region were tested for Covid-19 every 14 days, which, combined with the fact that Tairāwhiti was a “low-risk border”, meant there had a “minimal opportunity” for the coronavirus to enter.
Most of the ships arriving in Gisborne harbor had been at sea for more than 14 days or had come from places with no local spread, he said.
Hauora Tairāwhiti’s medical officer of health Dr Osman David Mansoor said low vaccine use among longshoremen was “a bit of concern,” prompting him to write to chief health officer Ashley Bloomfield on April 23. .
He asked Bloomfield whether vaccinating border workers should be the main defense against the virus, rather than regular testing.
“It could encourage people to get the vaccine if they knew they would not be dabbed,” Mansoor said at the DHB meeting on Tuesday.
“I haven’t seen any data, but understand that this situation with the longshoremen is not a local issue, it’s a national issue, but again, I didn’t see any actual data, just getting reports indicating that it is the group across the country that has low coverage, ”Mansoor said.
As a “remedial strategy,” they offered the vaccine to family contacts and “those around” the longshoremen, he said.
The Department of Health is reviewing Dr Mansoor’s comments and will respond to them in due course.
Department of Transportation policy director Brent Johnston said that while vaccination was not a legal requirement for longshoremen, the government wanted to ensure that all workers had all possible measures in place to protect them. people, communities and workplaces against Covid-19.
“We strongly encourage longshoremen and other workers in high-risk roles in seaports to get vaccinated.
“Advice on how to maximize vaccine uptake among broader border workers is being prepared.
“This will include options to expand the scope of the health ordinance to include non-government workers performing specified high-risk work at air and sea borders.”
The Department of Transportation was currently preparing this notice in conjunction with a range of other government agencies, Johnston said.
Mansoor said another challenge when deploying the vaccine was that the Covid-19 Vaccination Registry (CIR) was not “fully functional”.
“In fact, we don’t have this precise coverage data on port workers or health workers.”
When asked at the meeting what proportion of longshoremen in Gisborne had been vaccinated, Mansoor said he could not provide exact figures.
Mansoor said the two main reasons he had heard from longshoremen for not getting the vaccine were “they didn’t need it”, because they didn’t believe Covid-19 was serious and that they did not know the long-term impacts of the vaccine.
“It’s obviously a matter of personal choice, but obviously it works as well as we can protect the whole community.
“So this is always going to be a challenge for us and how we can move forward in this space given that there seem to be substantial concerns.”
Tony Robinson, a board member of Hauora Tairāwhiti, called the lack of coverage data for tank tops an “Achilles heel”, saying he said it was the “riskiest entry point” for the virus in the area.
A man who works in Gisborne’s shipping industry, who had received both doses of the vaccine, said he asked his colleagues why they didn’t want to be vaccinated.
“Those I spoke to said it wasn’t mandatory and they had the right to say no.
“They feel that if they don’t want to have it, they shouldn’t have it.
“I actually told them I think they should have it, I think everyone in the shipping industry should have it.”
He believed that “a lot” of material handling workers were reluctant to get vaccinated.
“Some of them say there isn’t enough information. I totally disagree with that.”
However, he believed that the public had a false impression of the navigation and that it was “not the danger”.
“These ships in particular come from China, 20 days, they stay at anchor here for 10 days, the quarantine period is 14 days. They have up to 30 days of quarantine.
“These ships are super safe.”
The vessels that posed a greater risk were those coming from Australia and places where the journey time was less than 14 days, he said.
Describing the work of the longshoremen, he said they loaded and unloaded container ships: fertilizer, kiwis, logs – “the whole lot”, and said they often traveled from port to port across the country, filling where the work was needed.
Tairāwhiti did not know the exact number of border workers in the area, nor the number of their family contacts.
Green said this was “not a problem” and Tairāwhiti was “satisfied with the detail recorded in the CIR”.
At the end of February, Tairāwhiti estimated the number of frontier workers and household members at 300.
According to the Covid-19 vaccination register, 92 border officials from Tairāwhiti had received the first dose of the vaccine on April 27. Of these, 65 had received the second dose.
Fifty-three household contacts of frontier workers had received the first dose and of these, 42 had received the second dose.
ISO Ltd is the sole stevedoring operator in Gisborne and also works in 13 other ports across the country. ISO declined to comment.
The Ministry of Health gave the following response regarding the Covid-19 vaccination registry:
“The Ministry of Health maintains a database of every person who has been vaccinated against Covid-19.
“At the time of vaccination, the database will capture where each person is placed in relation to the sequencing frame – this includes whether it is a frontier worker or a household contact of a frontier worker, but does not include any additional border information. the employer or job description of the worker (or that of the worker within the household).
“The Ministry of Health and MBIE [Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment] worked with employers to identify eligible workforce to receive immunizations and contact them with an invitation to attend a clinic. “
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