The first of Air New Zealand’s 3800 frontline workers will receive Covid-19 vaccinations on Thursday.
Air New Zealand chief medical officer Ben Johnston said all Air New Zealand cabin crew and pilots, as well as airport, cargo and line maintenance staff in Auckland and Christchurch would be receiving vaccinations over the next few weeks.
“While it’s not mandatory, we are strongly encouraging our people to take the opportunity to be vaccinated as part of the prioritised roll-out,” Johnston said.
The airline was educating staff on how the vaccine worked, the benefits of receiving it and key safety information, so they could make an informed decision, he said.
For now, there would be no impact on a staff member’s ability to carry out their duties should they choose not to get vaccinated, he said.
But that could change depending on future requirements of governments, for example mandatory vaccination being a condition of entry to a country, he said.
“It’s something that we’re going to continue to watch.”
Chief executive Greg Foran, who interacts with frontline staff at least once a week, recently said he wanted to be vaccinated as soon as possible.
Foran has spoken in the past about how some Air New Zealand staff have been ostracised because people perceived them to be a Covid-19 risk due to their work involving overseas travel.
Johnston said Air New Zealand staff were among the most impacted by Covid-19 safety requirements, including having to follow isolation protocols overseas, undergo regular testing, wear personal protective equipment at work, or isolate on return from duties.
“We welcome the Government’s decision to prioritise border workers for vaccines as a means of protecting the people who are most at risk of contracting Covid-19 in New Zealand.”
A safe and effective vaccine was a vital step towards the long-term control of Covid-19, and New Zealand’s borders opening, and the airline was pleased its employees had been prioritised to receive it, he said.
The vaccination programme offered staff some relief from the anxiety caused by Covid-19, he said.
It would take time for Covid-19 restrictions and protocols for frontline staff to ease, he said.
The Ministry of Health first wanted to see two things: The impact of the vaccine on the potential to transmit the virus and, secondly, what vaccine coverage was like across the wider population.
“Ultimately it’s in their hands, and they’ve said no immediate change.”
The Ministry of Health also set guidelines on what Air New Zealand staff were prioritised for vaccination, he said.
Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 pilot Paul Dawson flies to high risk cities in North America, including San Francisco.
On Thursday he’s scheduled to receive his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Being fully vaccinated would offer peace of mind and more confidence in mitigating the risk of contracting Covid-19 when visiting overseas ports, he said.
“The vaccine will make a huge difference for us,” Dawson said.
It was exciting to be amongst the first people in New Zealand to receive a vaccination, he said.
“To be part of the first wave in New Zealand, that’s really exciting.
“There’s probably a small degree of the unknown, but that didn’t worry me or faze me.”
Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 in-flight service manager Audrey Poskitt would be one of the first in the airline to be vaccinated.
She said she hoped getting vaccinated would help change the perception of aircrew who flew overseas.
“Receiving the vaccine for me is about providing an extra layer of protection for my community, on top of the measures in place already,” Poskitt said.
“My husband is immune compromised, and when I come home from offshore duties, we often spend time in different parts of the house.”
Getting vaccinated helped keep her husband and the rest of her whānau and friends safe, she said.
First of Air New Zealand’s 3800 frontline staff set to receive Covid-19 vaccine