Rise of 'conspiracists' hits immunisation rates

6:26 pm on 21 October 2020

Misinformation and rumours about vaccinations, along with hesitation about visiting medical practices following the Covid-19 pandemic, is affecting Tairāwhiti's immunisation rates, medical professionals say.

no caption

There is a lot of negative information about vaccines in the community, a health professional says. Photo: AFP

An update on immunisations provided to Hauora Tairāwhiti's advisory committee, Hiwa i Te Rangi, yesterday said some families, particularly the region's most vulnerable, were delaying, declining or "dodging" immunisation appointments.

The report, written by clinical care manager Nicki Dever, said "the Covid-19 effect" was making a difference to immunisation rates, and despite general practices recalling children and families for vaccinations, some remained hesitant.

"A lot of negative information towards vaccines is presently found in the community," she said.

Dever pointed to rumours in the community and said the political environment prior to the election, led by the New Zealand Public Party and Advance New Zealand, gave vaccination "non-believers" a new channel to work and spread misinformation.

Immunisation rates in Tairāwhiti sat just below the Ministry of Health's target of 95 percent, with eight-month-olds at 79 percent, two-year-olds at 86 percent and five-year-olds at 89 percent.

Dever said Outreach Immunisation Services was overloaded with referrals for families who would normally attend a general practice, and it was working closely with the B4 School service to coordinate checks and immunisations for families not accessing a general practice.

Te Puna Waiora planning and funding group manager Nicola Ehau said the rise in "conspiracists" had affected how the community understood immunisation.

"We do know that there was significant response to that discussion, particularly as we led up to the election," but she was hopeful that would now "tail off".

Optimism rates will improve

Hauora Tairāwhiti chief executive Jim Green said immunisation rates tended to be delayed in Tairāwhiti but picked up when children were aged between two and five, by which time the gaps between Māori and non-Māori were "virtually eliminated".

The delay was "particularly pronounced" at present as people were being careful about bringing their children out, Green said.

"We think that will improve as time goes on. We prefer, and it would be better for their children, if they were immunised on time.

"But we are particularly understanding at the moment around some of the things that have been happening over the last few months that have made people wary and careful with their children and their families."

In an interview that gained international attention this week, Newshub political editor Tova O'Brien asked Advance NZ co-leader Jami-Lee Ross if he had any regrets about being part of an election campaign that was peddling misinformation.

"You know exactly what you were doing. You were whipping up fear and hysteria among vulnerable communities," she told Ross.

no metadata

Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers' Association and NZ on Air.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs