COVID-19 Information for unvaccinated members

This advice has been updated to include announcements about AstroZeneca availability, severe disruption exemptions, and health and safety assessments for exempted staff.

Change to vaccination exemptions

The Covid-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021 has been amended to cancel existing medical exemptions and to require all medical exemptions to vaccination from 8 November to be approved by the Director-General of Health within specific guidelines.

If you had an exemption you will need to apply for a new one.  After 15 November 2021 you cannot work onsite when students may be present without a new exemption from the MoH or you are vaccinated.

The revised order is available here: COVID-19 Public Health Response (Required Testing and Vaccinations) Amendment Order 2021 (SL 2021/358) – New Zealand Legislation

What will exemptions be given for?

Exemptions will be issued because you are unable to physically tolerate the vaccine. Guidelines on what will constitute grounds for exemption can be found here:

Vaccine Temporary Medical Exemption Clinical Criteria, Clinical Guidance and Resources (Word, 251 KB)

Ministerial exemption

The Minster now has limited power to grant an exemption when requested by an employer after consulting with the Ministry of Education Regional Director.

The advice below has been updated to reflect these changes.

Two Public Health Orders affect teachers 

The first (PHOT) is about testing: COVID-19 Public Health Response (Required Testing) Amendment Order (No 4) 2021 (LI 2021/316) Explanatory note – New Zealand Legislation 

The second (PHOV) become law on 23 October and takes effect from midnight on 25 October 2021. It is about vaccination

The existing PHO that will be amended to include teachers can be found here: 

COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021 (LI 2021/94) (as at 12 August 2021) – New Zealand Legislation 

Effect of PHOT 

Teachers in level 3 areas 

You cannot return to onsite duties without evidence of a negative COVID test in the previous five days.

There is a potential $1000 fine for breaching this order. 

You can find swab testing stations through this link: 

Community Testing Centres | Unite against COVID-19

You can find information about saliva testing here:

Teachers in other areas of the country 

You will not need to provide evidence of a negative COVID test to return to school.

Effect of PHOV 

Boards of trustees 

PHOV prevents boards in level 2 areas from having teachers onsite from 15 November who have not had at least one dose of vaccine. If you get your first dose of vaccine after 15 November you can return to onsite duties from the day you are vaccinated.

Boards in level 3 areas cannot have unvaccinated staff onsite after 15 November.

From 1 January 2022 the board cannot allow anyone to work onsite who is not fully vaccinated.  

This will require boards to make decisions about how you are employed and/or whether it is possible for your employment to continue after 1 January if you are not fully vaccinated. 

Unvaccinated members 

PHOV does not remove your right to decline to be vaccinated. However, from 15 November your board cannot allow you on-site if you have not had one dose of vaccine (at any level). At Level 3 you need one dose and must provide weekly evidence of negative COVID testing until fully vaccinated to remain on-site. From 1 January 2022, you will not be able to be on-site if you are not vaccinated.

The principal will be able to direct you to provide information related to your vaccination status and you must comply with that request. In addition, the Ministry of Health must provide the principal with access to the central vaccination register if given written confirmation of your employment. 

The PHOV does not instruct employers to terminate the employment of unvaccinated workers covered by it but termination of employment is a probable outcome if you remain unvaccinated. This is not predetermined and would depend on the outcome of a process board, it will be required to follow with you and the individual circumstances.   

Advice to unvaccinated members 

General advice  

You will need to either: 

  • Get vaccinated or get an appropriate medical exemption because you cannot be vaccinated.     
  • Engage early with your employer about your situation and what happens if you remain unvaccinated. 

If your position ends because you cannot be used for onsite duties this will not affect your teacher registration. You could return to another teaching role after being fully vaccinated at a future date.  However, for the foreseeable future it would not be possible to be reemployed in any job in the education sector, or any other job that requires full vaccination.

I don’t want the Pfizer vaccine. How does the availability of AstraZeneca change things for me? 

The Director-General of Health has indicated that the AstraZeneca vaccine will be available to those who are in professions to which a vaccine mandate applies and who do not want the Pfizer vaccine.

The processes around getting the alternative vaccine are not yet available. The advice below will be updated when it is.

You cannot be onsite from 16 November if you are not vaccinated. The AstraZeneca vaccine will not be available until later in November or in December. There is currently no indication that an exemption will be given for an intention to be vaccinated.

You should contact your GP and discuss with them the AstraZeneca vaccine as an alternative to Pfizer, and its suitability in your case. You may be able to get advice from them about how to book a vaccination, or when this might be possible.

You should be in discussion with your employer about your situation. You may have already indicated that you are waiting for an alternative vaccine. You should make clear as soon as you are sure that you are intending to be vaccinated with AstraZeneca when it is available, and that this is expected to be before the end of this year.

We expect that discretionary paid leave to be granted to allow you to work from home while waiting for the vaccination.

Contact your PPTA field officer for further advice and support.

I don’t want the Pfizer vaccine. Can I wait for Novovax? 

Novovax has applied for approval from Medsafe but this has not yet been given. Assuming approval is given it will not be available until sometime next year.

You cannot be onsite from 16 November if you are not vaccinated. There is currently no indication that an exemption will be given for an intention to be vaccinated.

You should contact your GP and discuss with them the Novovax vaccine as an alternative to Pfizer, and its suitability in your case. You may be able to get advice from them about when it may be available.

You should be in discussion with your employer about your situation. You may have already indicated that you are waiting for an alternative vaccine. You should make clear as soon as you are sure that you are intending to be vaccinated with Novovax when it is available, and that this may be sometime next year.

Contact your PPTA field officer for further advice and support.

Members who are unvaccinated for medical reasons

A very small number of people in the population cannot be vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine but could be vaccinated with AstraZeneca or an alternative vaccine when they are available in NZ

You will need to provide the employer with an exemption from the Ministry of Health via an approved medical specialist that you cannot be vaccinated. (see below). 

You should talk with your employer about what options are open to you if you cannot continue to be engaged in on-site duties, for example, while you wait for an alternative vaccine to be approved.  Four vaccines are approved by Medsafe for use in New Zealand: Pfizer, Janssen, Novovax, and AstraZeneca. Pfizer is currently available in New Zealand. The government has announced that AstraZeneca will be available in the next few weeks to teachers who cannot be vaccinated with Pfizer.  (See advice about the AstraZeneca vaccination above)

Your PPTA field officer will assist you with these discussions and suggest appropriate options in your circumstances. Advice about the process can be found here

See also FAQs

The new medical exemption process

If you had an exemption it is cancelled with effect from 8 November. You will need to apply for a new one from the MoH.  After 15 November 2021 you cannot work onsite when students may be present without a new exemption from the MoH or you are vaccinated.

What will exemptions be given for?

Exemptions will be issued because you are unable to physically tolerate the vaccine. Guidelines on what will constitute grounds for exemption can be found here:

Vaccine Temporary Medical Exemption Clinical Criteria, Clinical Guidance and Resources (Word, 251 KB)

How do I apply for an MoH exemption?

The process is described here:

https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-response-planning/covid-19-mandatory-vaccinations/covid-19-exemptions-and-exceptions-mandatory-vaccination.

A new exemption can only be issued by a suitable medical doctor or nurse practitioner.

The PHO amendment defines a suitable medical practitioner as:

  • registered with the Medical Council of New Zealand or the Nursing Council of New Zealand
  • covered by section 114(1)(a) of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 as a practitioner of the profession of medicine or nursing
  • having a current practising certificate.

The doctor or nurse practitioner must assess if you meet the specified clinical criteria.  If so, they will apply to the Ministry of Health for the exemption on your behalf.

  • You will need to certify that the information provided to the medical professional is accurate and

sign the application.

  • The medical professional must certify that they have reviewed your medical history and assessed your state of health and that they have reasonable grounds for believing that you meet the specified COVID-19 vaccination exemption criteria.

The MoH will consider the exemption request submitted and decide if an exemption is to be granted and how long the exemption will last and notify you of its decision in writing.

Your medical doctor or nurse practitioner should give you written confirmation that they are applying for an exemption for you to give to your employer while you are waiting for the MoH to confirm your exemption status.

While you are waiting for a decision

If you provide your employer with confirmation from your doctor or nurse that they are seeking an exemption for you, then after 15 November you should either be given alternative (off-site) duties or be put on paid until your application has been processed.

What then if I get an exemption?

If you are granted an exemption then you must provide your employer with a copy.

The maximum length for an exemption is six months. If you need to extend it, you will need to apply for a new exemption using the same process.

Your employer will have to carry out a health and safety assessment to determine whether you can work on-site or have to work from home.

What happens in a health and safety assessment after an exemption?

The school must undertake a health and safety assessment if you have a valid medical exemption, to determine whether and how your duties can be done without compromising your safety, the safety of students or other employees, or the wider schooling community.

The aim is to have arrangements in place for you to be working safely by the start of Term 1, 2022.

A health and safety assessment must be carried out with your input. You can ask for the elected health and safety officer or your branch chairperson or field officer to be part of the assessment. You can work on-site while the assessment is being done provided that you can work in a way that means you will not have contact with students, otherwise you will be on paid leave during the assessment.

If the assessment is that there are no reasonable measures that enable you to do your work safely on-site you should expect to get discretionary paid leave, while other options are explored.

If no options have been found, an employment process could be started by your employer, which may include an agreement to a further period of paid leave, or of unpaid leave but which may also lead to termination of employment.

Your PPTA field officer will be able to provide support and advice in this process. 

What if I don’t get an MoH exemption or it is not renewed?

After November 15 you won’t be allowed to work onsite when you may come into contact with students unless you get vaccinated, or your school applies for a Ministerial exemption (see below).

Further advice

Refer to the advice for unvaccinated members on processes where there is no exemption.

If you are not sure about being vaccinated  

If you have not already done so you should discuss the vaccination with your own medical practitioner or the general Healthline number on 0800 611 116. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Under PHOV the employer has the right to be informed of your vaccination status. They can require evidence of your vaccination and if they do not have this then they are required to assume that you are unvaccinated. 

You should talk with the employer about why you do not want to be vaccinated and they should direct you to official resources that explain the vaccination. 

The PHOV does not remove your choice of whether to be vaccinated or not. However, if you are not vaccinated by the key dates of 15 November (single vaccination) and 1 January (double vaccination) this may lead to a termination of your employment.

If you do not have your first vaccination by 15 November, then you should talk with your employer again before that date and discuss what options are open to you from that date. You can return to work on-site after 15 November if you have had one vaccination, and if you are in level 3 you are providing evidence of weekly negative COVID testing.

You should talk to your employer again before the end of term if you will not be fully vaccinated by 1 January because you cannot continue to be engaged in on-site duties if not fully vaccinated from that date. 

PHOV leaves employment decisions with the board, the employer must consider all reasonable options, though they are not obliged to agree to options that are not manageable for the work involved.  

Your PPTA field officer will assist you in having these discussions and suggest appropriate options in your circumstances. 

Termination of a position would not be covered by the surplus staffing, restructuring or disciplinary provisions. It would be more akin to the loss of a position if a teacher refuses to renew their teaching certification and the employer can no longer legally employ them. If the employer follows a fair and reasonable process that leads to the termination of your position this could not be challenged as a personal grievance. PPTA is discussing further implications of this with the Ministry of Education. 

As this would not be a disciplinary issue the employer would be required under the STCA or ASTCA to give you two months' notice of termination of employment. 

At the end of this page are links to places where you can get information on vaccination and the Pfizer vaccine. 

See also FAQs

Members who are resolute about not being vaccinated

If you have not already done so you should still discuss the vaccination (and the AstraZeneca alternative) with your own medical practitioner. 

The employer cannot instruct you to be vaccinated. It will not be a discipline issue if you refuse to be vaccinated as the individual right to decide is not limited by the PHOV.  

Under PHOV the employer has the right to be informed of your vaccination status. They can require evidence of your vaccination and other related information and if they do not have this then they must assume that you are unvaccinated. It is an offence to refuse to provide this information so this could be a disciplinary matter. They will be able to request your vaccination status from the Ministry of Health. 

The employer should talk with you about why you do not want to be vaccinated and they should direct you to official resources that explain the vaccination, even if you have already made up your mind not to be vaccinated. You should discuss your options with your employer again before the end of term. Your PPTA field officer can assist you in having these discussions and suggest options that are open to you in your specific circumstances. 

You should talk with your employer before 15 November about the implications following that date and after 1 January, when you cannot continue to be onsite. You should follow up those discussions again before 1 January. Your PPTA field officer can assist you in having these discussions and suggest options that are open to you in your specific circumstances. 

The employer would need to consider all reasonable options, though they would not be obliged to agree to any that are not practicable. In practice, the workable options would be limited by the need for the employer to have someone teaching your classes from the start of 2022. 

If there is no practical alternative in your particular circumstances and a fair process has been followed, then the employer can terminate your employment. Current case law supports this as an outcome of a PHO placing constraints on the employer if due process is followed.  

Termination of a position would not be covered by the surplus staffing, restructuring or disciplinary provisions. It would be more akin to the loss of a position if a teacher refuses to renew their teaching certification and the employer can no longer legally employ them. If the employer follows a fair and reasonable process that leads to the termination of your position this could not be challenged as a personal grievance. PPTA is discussing further implications of this with the Ministry of Education. 

As this would not be a disciplinary issue the employer would be required under the STCA or ASTCA to give you two months' notice of termination of employment. 

Your PPTA field officer would support you through this process and ensure that the process is fair and that your industrial rights are protected. 

At the end of this page are links to places where you can get information on vaccination. 

Further advice about the process can be found here

See also FAQs

Ministerial exemptions

The Minister may approve a request from your school for an exemption for you (under clause 12A(4)(a)(ii) D or E of the main order) to prevent significant disruption to learning at the school or to the essential operation of a hostel.  However:

  • the power is revoked on 1 January 2022
  • these would be on an individual case-by-case basis
  • if granted the exemption may be for a period that ends before 1 January 2022
  • before an exemption will be considered the school must first work with the MoE regional director to look for alternatives.

These exemptions therefore will be rare and will not carry over into the new year.

Who applies for a significant disruption exemption to the vaccine requirements? 

The COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021 now allows the Minister to grant a limited exemption for schools and kura in certain circumstances. This exemption is for schools, not individuals. Requests for exemption from individual teachers cannot be considered. However:

  • the power is revoked on 1 January 2022
  • these would be on an individual school by school case basis
  • if granted the exemption may be for a period that ends before 1 January 2022
  • before an exemption will be considered the school must first work with the MoE regional director to look for alternatives.

The process is:

  • When a school or kura believes there may be a significant disruption to learning over the remaining weeks of term 4 the school and the regional Director of Education works together to find ways of addressing the disruption.  
  • They will look for ways the potential disruption may be managed, such as using relief staff, sharing staff with other schools, internal cover, use of online learning etc.

The Regional Director of Education would advise the school on an exemption, if appropriate. If one is granted, then it may allow the school to have a named unvaccinated person on site for a limited period. That may only be until the seniors have gone. It will not extend beyond 1 January 2022.

It is not expected that there will be very few such exemptions granted.

Applying for jobs - Impact of Public Health Order

The requirement of the employer is to employ the best person eligible for employment in the role.

We would expect boards will make an assessment before advertising about whether the duties could be undertaken off-site or on-site at times when students are not there.

If the duties could be undertaken off-site/out of student hours then the board could employ you if you are not vaccinated but there may be additional requirements to ensure that the PHO is not breached.

If the duties cannot be undertaken off-site/out of student hours, then the board could not employ you if you would not meet the requirements of the PHO to be fully vaccinated after 1 January 2022 or have an exemption.

Whether or not the duties require vaccination might be set out in the ad and/or the information for applicants.

If you have a medical exemption that meets the MoH guidelines you can apply but the appointment might be provisional on you agreeing to specific health and safety measures. These would have to be reasonable and practicable.

As an applicant, you cannot be asked if asked you are vaccinated or have an exemption or to provide medical evidence, but you can be asked if you would meet the requirements of the PHO if you were appointed.

If you are offered the job you would have to provide approved vaccination or exemption evidence to the employer. The offer of the job would be subject to the provision of suitable evidence by a specified date.

Vaccine information 

COVID-19 vaccines | Unite against COVID-19 (covid19.govt.nz) 

COVID-19 vaccination: Your questions answered | Unite against COVID-19 (covid19.govt.nz) 

NZ Vaccine Facts | Unite against COVID-19 (covid19.govt.nz) 

What you need to know about the Pfizer vaccine | Unite against COVID-19 (covid19.govt.nz)  

COVID-19 vaccine Q&A #1: How were the COVID-19 vaccines created safely and quickly? - YouTube 

Vaccine advice if you are pregnant or breastfeeding | Unite against COVID-19 (covid19.govt.nz) 

Sarah's story: Deciding to get the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant - YouTube 

Vaccine advice if you have a health condition | Unite against COVID-19 (covid19.govt.nz) 

Nigel Latta, Dr Maia Brewerton and Dr Helen Petousis-Harris recently answered questions in a Facebook live event.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Dr Nikki Turner, Dr Siouxsie Wiles and Dr Vanisi Prescott recently answered questions about the COVID-19 Vaccine, moderated by Mihingarangi Forbes.

Mihingarangi Forbes sat down with Dr Hinemoa Elder to discuss some key concerns and hesitancies.

Vax Facts with Māori Doctors: Dr Anthony Jordan, Dr Papaarangi Reid, Dr Rawiri McKree-Jansen, Dr Maia Brewerton (specialists in Māori health).

A rangatahi panel with Dr Jason Tuhoe to kōrero about the vaccine from different perspectives.

A discussion between four health professionals about their thoughts, knowledge and experiences of the COVID vaccine in Straight Up with Dr. Lily Fraser – The Panel.

University of Auckland vaccinologist Associate Professor Helen Petousis-Harris looks at 10 vaccine myths circulating on social media.

You can find the most accurate and reliable information about the COVID-19 vaccine and the rollout from a number of trusted sources including:  

You can also keep up to date with current information and frequently asked questions by following the above organisations’ social media channels, or you can speak with your health provider  

Public Health Orders 

PHOT – the order requiring testing - can be found here: 

COVID-19 Public Health Response (Required Testing) Amendment Order (No 4) 2021 (LI 2021/316) – New Zealand Legislation 

The explanatory note to the legislation can be found here: 

COVID-19 Public Health Response (Required Testing) Amendment Order (No 4) 2021 (LI 2021/316) Explanatory note – New Zealand Legislation 

The general order it has amended can be found here: 

COVID-19 Public Health Response (Required Testing) Order 2020 (LI 2020/230) (as at 11 August 2021) Contents – New Zealand Legislation 

PHOV - the order requiring vaccination to be onsite - will amend this general order: 

COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021 (LI 2021/94) (as at 12 August 2021) – New Zealand Legislation 

Last modified on Friday, 19 November 2021 11:37