Dr Parmjeet Parmar (Supplied) Vaccine & Jacinda Ardern
Dr Parmjeet Parmar (Supplied) Vaccine & Jacinda Ardern

Dr Parmjeet Parmar: A narrow opportunity for Jacinda Ardern to lead by example

Opinion 11/05/2021

OPINION: How is it fair for frontline workers to be fired who refused a jab when our Prime Minister is still not vaccinated?

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on all of our lives. But not many have been affected greater than our frontline, essential workers. Now imagine the stress some of them are facing that have been fired after refusing the jab.  The decision of not letting anyone that isn’t vaccinated stay in frontline jobs is absolutely right but after all their work for our nation, this decision of making them jobless does not make sense. 

This requirement of all frontline workers to be vaccinated has been known for so many months. The government has been very clear about this requirement but the government also knows that around 1 in 4 New Zealanders may refuse the vaccine. We have frontline workers who put their lives on the line to guard us against Covid-19, now being put out of a job. 

Why haven’t the government and subsequent agencies, despite the roll out of the vaccination being nearly three months ago, identified their frontline employees that weren’t ready to take the vaccination and made arrangements in place for these staff in roles off the frontline?

If we play out a different scenario, where a frontline worker had agreed to get a vaccine, was booked in and had all ready to go, but then refused after going through the registration process, some sort of action against the employee is understandable. But it is not understandable that the government being the biggest employer could not find a placement for these people in these three months that they had.

By firing the staff who the government have done little to convert from being ‘hesitant’ to ‘for’ the vaccine, the government has put their current career and their family’s livelihood on the line.  

In all this, what is quite intriguing is that the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has still not received a Pfizer jab.  

She has been questioned by the media a few times about this. Every time she has said, she will definitely get vaccinated and that it will be when the roll out starts for the general public.  Why?  Isn’t it fair to think that she should have received the vaccine before they start firing people on the basis of being ‘hesitant’?  She even claimed not to be a priority. 

On the surface, her sentiment sounds fair. Putting the emphasis on the frontline workers to get vaccinated is definitely the right thing to do. Though, it is quite ridiculous to say she is not a priority. Who else travels the country as much and meets as many people as the Prime Minister? Whether she is speaking at meetings or taking selfies while attending public events, she remains at a high risk of catching and spreading the virus. 

And if it is only the Covid-19 Response Ministers that are sufficient to be vaccinated to curb the risk of spread - as they are the ones who come in contact with the high-risk border workers - isn’t it fair to think why the Prime Minister would not care to pay these high-risk workers a visit not necessarily to check on them but just to thank them for the great work they are doing guarding us from the invasion of the virus?

This should all warrant our frontline staff getting their deserved appreciation as well as the Prime Minister getting her vaccine. 

There have been a few instances of spare vaccines, and while those were given out to people not particularly in the groups being vaccinated, one could have easily been spared for the Prime Minister. 

With around 1 in 4 New Zealanders not sure about taking a Covid-19 vaccine and not willing to take the Pfizer jab, one would think having the Prime Minister as their role model, by taking the vaccine, would be a great way to turn their choice. 

It is quite disappointing that we have gone this long, with so many world leaders, of all age groups, having received their vaccine yet our own Prime Minister has not come forward to have her jabs. 

The global scientific community has done their job by achieving what was improbable in normal circumstances by creating a vaccine in a timeframe that was only possible because of exceptional global collaboration at all levels.

To not get a jab will be undermining the scientific community’s concerted effort in getting the vaccine ready to save lives and the efforts of everyone who is getting vaccinated to protect themselves and others. 

Her taking the jab as soon as possible will help quell the fears of many those who are in that group that is undermining the importance of getting vaccinated against Covid-19.  She has a very narrow opportunity to contribute to build that trust. I guess all we can do is wait.  It has been already late for these frontline workers who are laid off but hope that she will get the vaccine at a time that will not be all too late to really make a difference to others who are ‘hesitant’.  

Written by Dr Parmjeet Parmar, a former Families Commissioner and National Member of Parliament, has a PhD in Biological Sciences from the University of Auckland.