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An inaccurate and alarmist flyer about the Covid-19 vaccine should not undermine the drive to protect New Zealanders from the pandemic disease, an Otago immunologist says.
Yesterday, anti-vaccination material was distributed in Dunedin, in the form of flyers printed by Voices For Freedom (VFF) left around the city.
VFF is led by Claire Deeks, who was No3 on Jami-Lee Ross’ Advance Party list last election.
Its social media presence contains multiple posts which claim the Covid-19 pandemic is a conspiracy.
The flyer, purporting to tell the "truth" about the Covid-19 vaccine, made a range of claims, including that vaccine-related deaths and serious injuries were being reported at an alarming rate, and that it was unknown if the vaccine would cause cancer, sterility or mutate cells.
University of Otago immunologist James Ussher was scathing of the flyer, saying while it did not explicitly state the most outlandish conspiracy theories circulating about vaccines, it twisted facts and could mislead people.
"There are some significant factual inaccuracies ... it is very unhelpful," he said.
There was more than enough data available to show that the vaccine was effective at preventing the spread of Covid-19, debunking one of the flyer’s central claims, Prof Ussher said.
"There is also very good data that it is very good at reducing symptoms."
While there would probably always be some people who would refuse a vaccination, Prof Ussher — who has participated in international Covid-19 vaccine development programmes — said the public health concern was that enough people who were hesitant to get a jab might be swayed by misinformation such as that in the flyer.
"It undermines people’s ability to protect themselves.
"When the borders reopen and if this disease comes into the country, we will have extremely busy hospitals, full ICUs, and the vast majority of those people will be those who have not had the vaccine."
Last week, the Government pledged to increase its public information efforts after an anti-mask-use flyer printed by Billy Te Kahika’s group The Freedom Alliance was distributed on public transport in Wellington.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins rubbished the flyer and said the best place for it was the bin.
Yesterday, Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said that from this week, all New Zealand homes should receive a brochure explaining the vaccine rollout and when people in groups 3 and 4 would be able to be vaccinated.
DHBs were on track to deliver more than 1million doses by the end of June, she said.
"By then we’ll be well into vaccinating the 1.7million people we’ve identified in group 3 ... those over 65, people with underlying medical conditions, prison staff and the prison population."