New Zealand Issues COVID Vaccine Mandate Days After Admitting It Can't Stop Virus

New Zealand announced it will issue a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers and teachers, just days after the country admitted it can't completely eradicate the virus.

The new mandate will require doctors, pharmacists, community nurses and other health care workers to be fully vaccinated by December, and teachers and other education workers to be fully vaccinated by January.

The new mandate comes as New Zealand acknowledged it would be unable to eradicate the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted the virus could not be completely wiped out in New Zealand by previous measures that prevented mass infections, such as lockdowns and contact tracing.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

COVID vaccine
New Zealand issued a vaccine mandate for teachers and most health care workers just days after the country admitted it would be unable to wipe out the virus completely. Lenox Hill Hospital Chair of Emergency Medicine Yves Duroseau receives the COVID-19 vaccine from Dr. Michelle Chester at Long Island Jewish Medical Center on Dec. 14, 2020 in New York. Scott Heins/Getty Images

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said many in the professions had already gotten their jabs but they couldn't leave anything to chance, especially because those people deal with sick patients and young children who aren't yet approved for the vaccine themselves.

"It's not an easy decision, but we need the people who work with vulnerable communities who haven't yet been vaccinated to take this extra step," Hipkins said.

New Zealand already requires many people who work at the border to be vaccinated.

The announcement comes as New Zealand battles an outbreak of the highly transmissible delta variant in its largest city, Auckland.

The initial responses from groups representing affected workers were in favor of the mandate.

"Given the speed at which delta is spreading throughout our country, this is a bold, but necessary call to make," said Dr. Samantha Murton, president of The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.

Ardern said Monday that Auckland would stay in lockdown for at least another week, while the nearby regions of Waikato and Northland could come out of lockdown on Thursday if no significant spread of the virus was found in those places.

Auckland has been in lockdown for nearly two months, since the outbreak was discovered. Thirty-five new local cases were found in the city on Monday, bringing the total number of cases in the outbreak to a little over 1,600.

Ardern has been urging people to get vaccinated as a step toward the nation reopening.

This coming weekend, the government is planning a "Super Saturday" vaccination drive that it likens to an Election Day, when vaccination centers will be open throughout the day and into the evening.

About 68 percent of New Zealanders have had at least one dose of the vaccine and 47 percent are fully vaccinated. Among those aged 12 and over, the figures rise to 82 percent and 57 percent respectively.

The government on Monday also announced an advanced purchase agreement for 60,000 courses of an experimental new pill by drug maker Merck, pending approval by New Zealand regulators.

The pill, molnupiravir, would be the first shown to treat COVID-19, if it's approved by regulators including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

NZ COVID Vaccine
New Zealand's doctors and teachers are among those who must soon be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus to continue working in their professions, the government announced Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. A health worker administers vaccinations at a mobile clinic Oct. 7, 2021, in Auckland, New Zealand. Sylvie Whinray/New Zealand Herald via AP