Covid 19 Delta outbreak: DHB Covid guidance scrapped following vaccination mandate

A requirement for District Health Boards to know the vaccination status of staff who could come into contact with Covid-19 appears to have been scrapped due to complications with data collection and the recent health workforce vaccination mandate.

In June, a DHB guidance document was released regarding vaccination which stated all Covid-19 stream work should be undertaken by vaccinated staff.

Alongside that guidance, it was established by TAS – an organisation representing DHBs – that DHBs had until August 31 to ensure any staff who could be exposed to the virus were fully vaccinated.

“DHBs are expected to know by 31 August 2021 the vaccination status of all workers identified as being in a Covid-19 workstream, and will be taking the necessary steps now to identify and record their Covid-19 workstreams, and identify the vaccination status of workers in those workstreams,” a TAS spokesperson said in July.

However, the NZ Herald understands this requirement has been abandoned – partly due to DHBs finding it too difficult to record the necessary data as well as the eventual mandate which comes into force from November 15.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said DHBs had been working hard to ensure their staff had received their first vaccination by the required date.

“Healthcare and disability workers have been able to be vaccinated against Covid-19 since March 2021, and DHBs have achieved high rates of voluntary vaccination so far,” he said.

“I’m expecting updated information about the status of each DHB in mid-November.”

Hipkins didn’t comment on the August 31 deadline.

In September, the Herald made an Official Information Act request, asking for the vaccination levels of Covid-19 workstream staff across all DHBs.

The request was recently denied as the information couldn’t be sourced without “substantial collation or research”.

Staff vaccination data across DHBs has been regularly released since May, however, specific levels across Covid-19 workstream staff has never been publicised.

The Herald understands DHBs have been hamstrung having to collect staff vaccination retrospectively, as well as the legal complications of recording staff members’ personal health information.

It is also understood the August 31 deadline is considered redundant, due to the Government’s recent announcement that health staff must have had their first dose by November 15 and their second by January 1.

While that left two and a half months when DHBs may not have known the vaccination status of their Covid-facing staff, there was a high degree of confidence of strong vaccination coverage across that workforce.

University of Otago epidemiologist Nick Wilson said DHBs being unaware of vaccination levels among staff who could interact with the virus posed significant risk.

“It seems highly problematic that the DHBs don’t know this because then they can’t reassure the public,” he said.

“Say there’s an overall good average [vaccination level], that could represent 100 per cent of doctors and poor uptake by nurses and so they’d want to be able to target the nurses because there’s probably variation by particular groups.”

He said it was critical managers were aware which staff were protected against the virus and would indicate where further support was needed across the country.

“This is such basic information … this is just bizarre that they can’t say.”

Absorbed by other issues caused by the pandemic, DHBs have been notoriously slow in recording staff vaccination data.

In May, the Herald revealed 11 DHBs were not collecting data on whether their staff have received the Covid jab.

At the time, there was no protocol in place requiring DHB staff to be vaccinated before treating patients suspected or confirmed to have Covid-19.

In July, there were still nine DHBs not recording this data. Now, all DHBs are collecting this information.

Craig Carr, New Zealand chair of the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society, said he understood managers in intensive care units across the country had recently been encouraged to check the vaccination status of their staff.

“This seems to be a norm,” he said.

“Both because of our responsibility for health and safety for our staff at work and our responsibility for the health and safety for our patients we’re looking after, we’re working through a process of making sure that all our frontline staff are vaccinated.”

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