Only nine of 94 isolated Port workers vaccinated
As of July, 22, 60 per cent of the frontline border workers in the Bay of Plenty haven’t had a single Covid vaccination.
The news comes amid 11 cases of Covid-19 on a shipping container that was recently berthed in Tauranga.
The Rio De La Plata, currently at sea off the coast of Tauranga, was boarded by an Australian pilot in July who subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.
A further 94 port workers have since been identified as having contact with the ship during the four-day period it was berthed at the Port of Tauranga.
Speaking at a post-Cabinet media appearance today Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins confirms that of the 94 port workers impacted only nine had been fully vaccinated two have had their first dose.
“Those numbers are too low,” he says.
According to a response from Hipkins to a written question from his National Party counterpart Chris Bishop, as of July 22, of the 530 frontline border workers in the Bay of Plenty, 319 had not had a single jab.
Bishop, National Party’s spokesperson for Covid-19 response, describes the lack of vaccinated port workers as “unbelievable”.
“This is incredibly concerning,” says Bishop.
“Frontline workers were meant to have been vaccinated months ago. We have a glaring hole in our border.
“Bay of Plenty with our largest port workforce is the worse with 60 per cent of their workers unvaccinated, that’s higher than the average for all port workers, which is still shockingly at 40 per cent unvaccinated.
“The port is one way Covid-19 could enter New Zealand. Given the huge number of unvaccinated port workers in the Bay of Plenty, and the fact active cases were on board at the time, it’s not unfeasible that transmission could’ve taken place, putting the rest of New Zealand at risk.
“The Government has left a major vulnerability in our Covid-19 response. It has taken way too long to mandate that staff working at the border in a frontline should be vaccinated.”
ACT leader David Seymour has been equally critical of the figures saying New Zealand’s luck was soon going to run out if changes were not made.
“With the very real risk of another Covid-19 outbreak, our borders have been left vulnerable with more than 1,000 port workers unvaccinated,” says Seymour.
“As of two and a half weeks ago, there were 1,149 unvaccinated port workers. You only have to look at what’s happened today with the ship Rio De La Plata off the coast of Tauranga today to see how vulnerable this leaves New Zealand.
“The largest number of unvaccinated workers is in Bay of Plenty, the very place the workers have potentially been exposed.
“New Zealand has so far got by with good luck, not good management, The Government needs to lift its game before our luck runs out.”
Asked about the risks posed by the Rio De La Plata container ship off Tauranga, Ardern says the government has always prioritised frontline workers, including port workers, for vaccination.
"They have had vaccines available for some time," she says.
She says a situation where border workers were not vaccinated is not tolerable, however, which is why the government has mandated that workers at the border must have their first dose by August 26.
Ardern also lays the blame of poor vaccination uptake in port workers at the door of misinformation.
"What we have encountered though are a range of barriers to those individuals having a vaccination and that includes, unfortunately, misinformation..."
Hipkins backed up that claim. He says that port workers are among the New Zealanders who have had access to Covid-19 vaccinations for the longest period of time.
He states that from meetings with relevant employers, unions and organisations it is clear the spread of misinformation is a major cause for the low vaccination rates among port workers, including in the Bay of Plenty.
“I have spoken about this before,” says Hipkins.
“The low rates of vaccination amongst our port workers they by far fall into the lowest vaccination category of any of our frontline border workers. It has been an area of concern for me for some time.
“It does appear clear there is a greater degree of misinformation here. A greater degree of conspiracy theory. That is something we have been working to address.”
SunLive has contacted the Port of Tauranga and Ministry of Health for comment.