COVID-19: Exemptions from mandatory vaccination

Who can apply for an exemption, what criteria must be met, how to apply and what to do if an application is declined.

Last updated: 23 November 2021

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The Government wants everybody who is carrying out work in the health and disability sector to be vaccinated. There are very few exemptions to this. Read more information below and on the COVID-19: Mandatory vaccinations page.

Relevant documents:

Exemptions from mandatory vaccination

In some situations, health and disability, education and corrections workers may be able to get an exemption from being vaccinated against COVID-19. However, there are very few situations where vaccination is contraindicated and, as such, a medical exemption is expected to be rarely required.

Exemptions will be limited to situations where a suitable alternative to the COVID-19 vaccine is not readily available for the individual.

Exemptions will be for a specified time, reflecting, for example, recovery from clinical conditions or the availability of alternate vaccines.

It is likely that most people who are not medically exempt can be safely vaccinated, with some requiring extra precautions.

If a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) believes that its service will be significantly disrupted if the affected worker/s are unable to provide part, or all the service, the employer can apply for a temporary significant service disruption exemption. This is for a specific health or disability worker who is not vaccinated and where removing them from the role would result in a significant disruption to the service. An exemption should only be sought after all other business continuity options have been considered by the PCBU.

When you can apply for an exemption

Corrections workers are required to have had their first dose of the vaccine by 6 November 2021. If they have been granted an exemption under the Required Testing & Vaccinations Amendment Order that came into force on 25 October 2021 they have a transition period until 21 November 2021 to apply for an exemption under the new process.

Health and disability workers and education workers are required to have their first doses by 15th November 2021. If they have been granted an exemption under the Order that came into force 25 October 2021 this will be void from 8 November 2021 when the amended order comes into effect and they need to apply for an exemption under the new process.

Temporary medical exemptions

A member of the public cannot apply for an exemption for themselves. If the Order applies to the person and they are not vaccinated and think they might be eligible for a temporary medical exemption, their usual medical practitioner or nurse practitioner can apply on their behalf.

The application may only be on the grounds that the person meets the specified exemption criteria. The application is submitted to the temporary medical exemptions panel run by the Ministry of Health.

The Temporary Medical Exemptions panel includes medical and nurse practitioners and a Māori health leader. The panel will consult with external experts if required.

The Director General of Health notifies the applicant and the person of the outcome of the application. If the application is granted then a copy of the exemption will be provided in written or electronic form noting the expiry date of the exemption, which is for up to six months.

A worker may not exempt themselves even if they are a suitably qualified health practitioner.

Getting a medical exemption does not guarantee a worker is able to return to the same work or role under the Vaccinations Order. The employer will need to consult with the worker on their specific options.

Temporary significant service disruption exemptions

Health and disability sector

The employer (PCBU) of the worker needs to apply for a temporary significant service disruption on their behalf. An affected health and disability sector worker who is self-employed will apply as their own PCBU.

The application requires the PCBU to include details of its planning for risk management, health protection, impact on its service and efforts to support the ‘affected’ worker’s vaccination. 

A plan is required for each ‘affected’ worker.

The COVID-19 Response Minister notifies the applicant, and the affected worker of the outcome of the application. If the application is granted a copy of the exemption will be provided in written or electronic form.  

This exemption will be for a specified time period to allow the PCBU time to manage the risk of significant service disruption so regular business can resume as soon as possible. The significant service disruption exemption duration will be for up to six months.

Education sector

If you are a school principal or board chair and are concerned that significant disruption may be caused to the operations of learning in a registered school, or the operations of a hostel, please contact your local Ministry of Education office. They will discuss the options available, which may include applying for an exemption.

Border, MIQ and Port sectors

The exceptions process for Border workers, including MIQ and port workers covered by the vaccination order, remains unchanged.

How an exception is granted for the border sector

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) may apply to the Minister for COVID-19 Response to allow a named unvaccinated worker to work if it is necessary to promote the purpose of the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 and prevent significant disruption to the supply chain.

The Minister for COVID-19 Response decides if an exception should be granted.

The Vaccination Order provides the criteria the Minister must consider when deciding whether to grant an exception.

Evidence required for exception for the border sector

The Minister will consider both the extent to which work is necessary, and the potential for significant service disruption if the work does not occur.

The potential for significant service disruption if the work carried out by a particular person does not occur

To assist the Minister in deciding an exception under this clause you should provide evidence to support:

  • what the service disruption would be if the worker is unable to perform the role
  • how significant the service disruption would be
  • the service is considered essential
  • what the extent of the risk to the public interest is from the service disruption.
The extent to which the work is necessary

To assist the Minister in deciding an exception under this clause you should provide evidence of:

  • what efforts have been made to make the worker aware of the vaccination requirement, including the deadline for getting vaccinated
  • if the employer/PCBU offered the worker the opportunity to receive the vaccine during their usual working hours
  • what the reason is the worker has decided not to be vaccinated at this time (including any identified barriers to the worker being vaccinated)
  • if the worker has been briefed on the vaccine by a suitably qualified health practitioner
  • whether the individual worker cannot be replaced with another existing worker, by another function, or by training of other or new staff in the short term
  • if the employer/PCBU can operate without the role, even while recruitment or retraining is underway (noting any qualifications required and how long training will take)
  • how necessary the work activities are, including whether they could reasonably be delayed to facilitate vaccination of the worker needed to perform the role.

The Minister may exempt the worker for a specified period.

No class or group exceptions will be considered. However, if appropriate, a PCBU may seek exceptions for more than one worker at a time. In this situation, the PCBU should outline the cumulative effect of that group not being vaccinated.

Read more about Border worker vaccinations on the Unite Against COVID-19 website.

Where to go for more information

Read more about mandatory vaccination for workers at COVID-19: Mandatory vaccinations and on the Unite Against COVID-19 website

Find more about COVID-19 vaccination at COVID-19: Vaccine information for health professionals and on the Unite Against COVID-19 website.

Email [email protected] for information about health orders.

Email [email protected] for education-related questions.

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