Expert: Vaccine misinformation pamphlet drop potentially deadly

Amy Wiggins, NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Fri, 25 Jun 2021, 2:12PM
Misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccine could lead to deaths, according to an expert. (Photo / Supplied)
Misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccine could lead to deaths, according to an expert. (Photo / Supplied)

Expert: Vaccine misinformation pamphlet drop potentially deadly

Amy Wiggins, NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Fri, 25 Jun 2021, 2:12PM

An anti-Covid vaccine pamphlet drop in a central Auckland suburb has concerned residents and been described as potentially deadly.

A resident of George St, Mt Eden said he came home last night to find the pamphlet in his letterbox and could see it poking from the letterboxes of most of the other residents in his complex also.

He said it was a concern to see people were still distributing information questioning the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine.

Vaccine expert and Auckland University Associate Professor Helen Petousis-Harris said such tactics used characteristics of propaganda and were "deeply misleading".

"Ultimately people could die as a result of this kind of misinformation. The outcome could be a potentially fatal disease that's now preventable."

She said almost all Covid-19 hospitalisations in America now involved unvaccinated people.

Petousis-Harris said there was no truth to the claim it was unsafe because Pfizer was still conducting stage three trials.

"The data required for regulators to authorise the vaccine was available at the end of last year. Vaccine studies never cease."

Claims the mRNA type of vaccine had not been used in humans was also false, Petousis-Harris said.

She said they were effectively sitting on the shelf ready to go and had been used in earlier human trials.

Immunisation Advisory Centre director Dr Nikki Turner said there always would be a few people who get suspicious of the science behind such vaccines.

She said it was important that those people could have their questions answered in a way that did not raise alarm.

"We need a safe, sensible scientific debate and people must be allowed to have their voice heard."

She also rubbished the pamphlet's claims and said there was already plenty of data to prove its safety.

"We've got a bigger safety profile than we've ever seen before with vaccine trials already."

But there were still unanswered questions so it was important to continue stage three trials around topics like how long it would last, using a mixture of vaccines and how effective it is for very high risk groups like people who have had transplants.

"There are questions outstanding and those questions should continue to be researched - that is totally appropriate."

She said big background trials involving tens of millions of people meant if there were to be issues in 20 years' time, scientists would already be picking up the signs of it.

"You're not going to suddenly, out of the blue, see something arise in 20 years' time."

A Ministry of Health spokesman said they were aware there was information like the pamphlet circulating in the community which commented on the safety and efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines.

The pamphlet is not the first piece of misinformation raised as a concern this week.

A healthcare clinic in Hanmer Springs had been distributing material to its customers which claimed the NZ Covid-19 vaccine rollout was illegal and a 100 per cent cure to the virus had been found.

A release from the Ministry of Health said there was no evidence that the compound promoted in the publication had any efficacy against Covid-19 in humans.

"It is important that people use only reliable sources for their information and should carefully consider what they pass on," he said.

"We need a whole of society approach to combat misinformation, not only by government agencies but also academia and the media."

He said official information about the Covid-19 vaccine would be from the Unite Against Covid-19 and Ministry of Health websites.

If people came across misinformation about the vaccine they should email [email protected] to report it to CERT NZ.

RNZ also today reported the Medical Council could not reveal what action was being taken against a group of doctors who signed an open letter criticising the Pfizer vaccine.

The council earlier this week warned that any doctor spreading misinformation about the virus and vaccines could lose their job and the right to practise medicine.

About 40 health professionals, mostly doctors, signed an open letter in April opposing the vaccine over safety concerns. The letter named the doctors and provides their Medical Council registration numbers.

Medical Council chairman Dr Curtis Walker told RNZ said a small number of doctors were peddling conspiracies.

The council said on Monday, 13 notifications - or complaints from the public - had been referred to an independent professional conduct committee for further investigation.

It said an unspecified number of complaints did relate to the open letter and some include instances of multiple complaints about the same doctor.

But whether those notifications now meant the committee was set to review all of the medical staff who signed the letter remained unclear.

When asked what steps it was taking against the letter signers, Walker said in a statement privacy legislation prevented it from commenting on any matters under investigation.

He said the council was taking the matter "very seriously' and it did not need to wait for a single complaint to take action.

"It is open to council to review a doctor's compliance with its standards whenever it has reason to consider a doctor is failing to do so."