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No doctor should be involved in patient care unless they are vaccinated against COVID-19.

That’s the call from the New Zealand Medical Association, which says vaccinating health care workers is essential in protecting patients from Covid infection.

“First of all, we believe all doctors should be vaccinated – end of story,” says NZMA Chair Dr Alistair Humphrey.

“Principle 1 of the Code of Ethics for the New Zealand Medical Profession is that the health and well-being of the patient is a doctor’s first priority.”

Doctors and other healthcare workers are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 in the course of their work. It follows that their patients, many of whom are debilitated or immunocompromised, are more likely to suffer serious complications if they are infected by the doctor.

While good infection control can reduce the risk, the close contact required during clinical care means that a risk assessment carried out according to WorkSafe guidelines puts healthcare into a category where all healthcare workers should be vaccinated under the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021 (Vaccinations Order).  

A recent Employment Relations Authority decision (GF v OO [2021] NZERA 251) found that employers can justifiably dismiss MIQ workers who choose not to be vaccinated. The basis for this is the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 – Employer and workers have a duty of care to ensure their business does not put people’s health at risk. 

“MIQ workers are required to be vaccinated to prevent spread of Covid into the community,” says Dr Humphrey.

“It is all the more important that doctors are vaccinated as they have both an ethical and a legal obligation not to put their vulnerable patients at risk.”

The basis for invoking the Covid Vaccination Order has not changed. “Until it does no doctor should see a patient unless that doctor is vaccinated against COVID-19.”

At such time the pandemic passes, the position could be revisited, Dr Humphrey says.

Most doctors are already fully vaccinated against COVID-19.  There are a very small number of doctors who should be held accountable for unethically (and arguably illegally) putting their patients at risk.

The NZMA would also commend organisations which represent other healthcare workers to take the same stand as the NZMA.

Watch a Newshub story about NZMA's position.