10 Dec 2021

Less than 30 antivax GPs in NZ, college estimates

From Checkpoint, 5:39 pm on 10 December 2021

Complaints have been made about doctors around the country on Covid-19 vaccine exemptions after the case of a Kaiapoi GP came to light.

Several investigations are underway into Dr Jonie Girouard who was caught on camera handing out medical certificates for people to avoid getting the Covid-19 vaccine.

Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners medical director Bryan Betty told Checkpoint they estimate there are less than 30 anti-vax GPs across the country.

However, doctors carried weight in what their advice as well as beliefs and views and that can be quite influential on patients, Dr Betty said.

"It's really disappointing this happens but it is, as I said, a small number."

Anti-vax doctors who have been identified so far were in small communities, he said, and had served them well over years.

"This issue has arisen and, for whatever reason, these beliefs are there with these practitioners and it is not a position that College of GPs backs, we've been very clear we're pro-vaccination, we back the science and we back the need for vaccination in this country."

It is possible that low vaccination in certain areas may be an effect of some anti-vax GPs' underlying beliefs, he said.

"That impact can be amplified in an area where there may be only access to one of these practitioners to service the community.

"At the end of the day, doctors like anyone else are allowed to hold personal views. The standards in the country say if you do hold those personal views, they shouldn't influence the balanced information that you give a patient in terms of their choice for medical treatment, that is a key principle."

When that threshold is crossed, then it was dealt with seriously, as with the Kaiapoi GP's case, he said.

The Health and Disability Commissioner has received 11 complaints about vaccination exemptions provided by health professionals.

It was crucial for employers to be aware that there was only one process allowed for Covid-19 vaccine exemptions and that is through Ministry of Health, Dr Betty said. Anything outside of that, including from a GP, is essentially void, he said.

"I think there has been a low level of awareness about the official process for getting a vaccine exemption. 

"If you are an employer and you are presented with one of these certificates and it isn't official, and it's not from the ministry, then you need to be asking questions about it and where it's come from."