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Mother speaks of vaccine mandates ‘heartbreak’


South Wairarapa councillors say there are lessons to be learned from an operational decision made earlier this year to mandate vaccine passes at ratepayer-funded facilities during the peak of covid.

At this week’s full council meeting, South Wairarapa mother Jo Woodcock said that because the council had enforced vaccine pass entry for swimming pools, libraries, and public buildings, “a medical apartheid was created”.

The vaccine pass requirement began in December last year and was lifted on April 5.

Woodcock said 11 per cent of her rates went towards facilities that she could not use at the time because she was unable to obtain a vaccine pass.

Chief executive Harry Wilson made the decision for South Wairarapa council venues, which was in line with Ministry of Health guidance.

Similar decisions were made across New Zealand for the health and safety of council staff and the public.

Woodcock said she understood vaccine passes were enforced for health and safety purposes but believed elected members should have voted on and discussed the decision.

“In the future, can we let open democracy work, rather than allowing one person to make this ridiculous decision?

“All councillors should have been consulted as they have been elected to be our voices.”

Woodcock said it was “heartbreaking” to explain to her 15 and 13-year-old why only one of them was allowed to access the town swimming pools.

“I never want this for my children ever. They have gone to the pools every summer, and to be excluded from swimming broke my heart to have to deal with that as a parent.”

After the public forum, Wilson said councillors were informed of his decision, “but it wasn’t appropriate for councillors to make that decision”, as it was an operational matter.

Councillor Alistair Plimmer said there were two parts to the issue.

“One is the protection of our staff, which is absolutely in Harry’s domain, and I wouldn’t question you on that.

“The second part I consider is that when we reduce services to ratepayers, that is a subject that needs to be discussed by councillors because we are responsible for giving you the authority to provide those services.”

He said involving councillors in the decision could have resulted in further options being explored.

He said he appreciated Wilson was under pressure to make health and safety decisions and that Ministry guidance was followed.

However, he said that elected members contributing to the decision was “a good place to be in”.

“The fallout that can occur in a society because of decisions like this … they are wider discussions than purely health and safety for the staff.

“There are other considerations that need to be taken into account.”

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen said the vaccine mandate decision process had been discussed at the chief executive review committee.

This committee is public-excluded.

“Any ire as a result of the mandate should be directed at the Ministry of Health and the government as opposed to local councils who have no leeway with regards to the implementation of this,” Beijen said.

When reflecting on the discussion, councillor Pip Maynard said it was “a lesson learned more than anything else”.

Councillor Rebecca Fox said the council needed a clearly defined process to communicate how an organisation manages risks to its staff and the impacts on the community.

“There is nothing to say we may not end up in this situation again.

“I think it’s important that we have a clear procedure that shows what that should look like.”

Wilson said it was important to remember many ratepayers were happy with the decision.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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