COVID-19 Vaccination in the General Practice Workforce

Updated 23 August 2021

Key messages

  • The college supports the guidance from MCNZ and NCNZ that all health professionals should be vaccinated against COVID-19
  • If you are an employer, you have an obligation to consult your staff regarding management of health and safety risks to them or others
  • If you are an employee, you must work positively and constructively with your employer in managing the risk associated with COVID-19, including concerns regarding vaccination

College position

The College receives numerous enquiries from both GPs as employers, and GPs as employees on the matter of members of the GP team choosing to remain unvaccinated. The College fully supports the guidelines regarding vaccination against COVID-19 issued by MCNZ and NCNZ earlier this year that can be accessed here.

All health professionals have the ethical obligation to protect the health of patients and the community. Vaccination against Covid-19 decreases the likelihood of infection and transmission of the virus to both patients and other members of the team.

It's the College’s viewpoint that GPs work in a high risk environment of contracting, and/or transmitting COVID-19 to others.  In a healthcare setting members and their staff are dealing with disease every day and practices are required to have health and safety policies and effective measures to keep their staff and their patients safe. 

You as the employer 
As the employer you have obligations under the Health and Safety at work Act 2015. The Act places a positive duty on ‘officers’ (employers/managers/business owners) to exercise due diligence to ensure that workers are protected as far as ‘reasonably practicable’.  The Act does not prescribe what ‘reasonably practicable’ should look like, however officers need to be able to show they exercised good judgement in any health and safety environments and ensured all reasonable precautions were taken to protect their staff.

Currently in NZ, medical professionals in general practice are not required by a Public Health order to be vaccinated.  

As your team are in a high risk environment, the Practice (eg. you as the owner/person responsible) may assess that for Health and Safety reasons all of your frontline workers (employees or contractors) need to be vaccinated.   In this scenario you must consult with your staff, and consider whether there may be other public health measures that can effectively minimise the risk of exposure and transmission.

The College recognises that the risk from COVID-19 can vary depending on the roles performed in your clinics. The College has created a Risk Matrix to assist members to ascertain the degree of risk under various scenarios. It was developed in response to requests for clarification about who was likely to be at high clinical risk if they were infected with COVID-19.  This Matrix is regularly reviewed and updated as new evidence comes to light and can be accessed here.  

Our matrix is collegial in nature and designed to advise members and their patients, and we stress that the matrix is advisory in nature and at times other agencies may give a different opinion.  It is not necessarily designed with workforce implications in mind.  

The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has guidance for employers and workers about the employment law implications for the COVID-19 vaccination programme here. 

Ensuring compliance with NZ employment law and its obligations of consultation and acting in good faith should always be kept to the forefront, and you should consider taking appropriate legal advice relevant to your specific situation.

If after consultation and due consideration of appropriate mitigations, you consider that the risk to your unvaccinated workforce is too great, you may decide that the unvaccinated workforce are unable to participate in certain roles and functions.  Should this decision be made, this will need to be clearly communicated to affected staff in writing.

You as the employee

It is recognised that medical professionals have choice, but you do work in an environment where there are known high risks. Therefore both the employer (Practice) and you as the employee/ contractor are responsible for taking all necessary steps to mitigate those risks. 

Unvaccinated healthcare workers should work positively and constructively with their employer on agreeing what mitigations and safeguards must be taken and adhered to, in order to protect not just you but the patient community.

In summary

The College’s position is that the general practice environment is high risk.  It is strongly recommends  all members and their workforce be COVID-19 vaccinated unless there is a valid medical reason for this not to occur. Members have ethical and legal responsibilities as both employers and employees to ensure safe environments for their patients and co-workers. Vaccination ensures not only their own safety, but more importantly reduces the risk of a clinician unwittingly passing on the virus to patients while they are in an asymptomatic or prodromal phase.