An overwhelming majority of teachers and other school staff are believed to have been vaccinated, according to the Ministry of Education.
From November 15 all staff at schools and early learning centres must have had at least one dose of the vaccine to help protect them, and the children in their care, against Covid.
Most teachers were on board with the mandate, but some schools feared they would be hit hard by teachers reluctant to get the jab.
But the new data shows the vaccine holdouts are a very small, if vocal, minority.
The Ministry of Education began asking schools from November 19 for a summary of the vaccination status of registered teachers and other paid staff.
Of the schools that responded, 97.6 per cent of teachers had had at least one dose – well above the national rate of 93 per cent of the eligible population.
That’s roughly in line with a spot survey carried out by the NZ Principals’ Federation last month, which found just 2 per cent, or one in 50 teaching staff, weren’t vaccinated.
The ministry said the data was not definitive but it had received responses from 93.6 per cent of schools. It could not compel them to answer as the ministry was not their employer.
Wellington led the pack, followed by Canterbury, Auckland and Otago and Southland – all of which had at least 98 per cent of teachers vaccinated with at least one dose.
Hawke’s Bay/Tairawhiti weren’t far behind, followed by Waikato. The least-vaccinated area was Tai Tokerau at 93.3 per cent.
Northland principals have expressed concerns that the region would be hard hit by the mandate because of low vaccination rates.
But even up north the teacher vaccination rate is still above the national rate of 93 per cent – and well above the Northland DHB rate of 85 per cent.
At the end of 2020, about 71,500 teachers were in classrooms, including about 14,000 relief teachers. If 2.4 per cent of them were still unvaxxed, that would mean about 1700 teachers are banned from school grounds.
To put that in context, 6445 people entered the teaching workforce in 2019 and 5545 left, according to the ministry’s Education Counts website. Last year 5821 teachers entered the workforce – the data for how many left is not available.
Some schools have kept unvaxxed teachers on the payroll or on unpaid leave for now, potentially hoping they may change their minds.
The deadline for school staff to have their second dose of the vaccine is January 1, which means unvaxxed teachers could still squeeze in a first dose by December 10 and be double dosed by the new year.
High vaccination rates could mask disparity between areas
The ministry’s data doesn’t break down vaccination rates by subject or school type, and it’s possible that shortages could be concentrated in some regions.
It has also not surveyed the early childhood sector.
Some reports from before the mandate kicked in suggested there’s wide variation between schools – ranging from 100 per cent vaccination rates to almost all staff refusing the jab.
Rates of vaccination among support staff may also cause issues. One in 20 teacher aides – 95 per cent – among schools surveyed had not got the jab.
Tai Tokerau’s rates were again the lowest with 89.1 per cent of teacher aides having had their first dose, while Auckland had the highest teacher aide vaccination rate at 96.5 per cent.
The education mandate also applies to staff at the Education Review Office and the Ministry of Education if they will be in schools at the same time as children. The ministry said 100 per cent of affected staff at ERO and 97 per cent at the ministry had had their first dose.
The Ministry of Education praised the education workforce for “leading by example”.
Spokesman Sean Teddy said the ministry appreciated schools providing the information at an exceptionally busy time.
“The information collected is not definitive and cannot be reported as such. However, it supports what we were already hearing that in their roles as teachers, educators and support staff are leading by example to give their student and parent communities and themselves confidence to be at school.”
He said most schools hadn’t needed help dealing with staffing issues after the mandate kicked in and had managed with their current teaching resources.
Regional ministry staff had contacted schools and kura as the mandate deadline approached, so they could work with those that were anticipating staffing issues, said Teddy, who is hautū (leader) of operations and integration.
“We have found that the vast majority of schools and kura are managing with the resources available and we’ve worked to provide additional support where necessary.”
That included relief staff, teachers who normally worked across a number of schools, and qualified support staff.
“Our regional office staff will continue to work with schools and kura to find solutions to any issues if they arise. To date, most have not required any support from us, which is very reassuring and testament to the great work schools and kura are doing to minimise disruption to teaching and learning.”