13 Oct 2021

Patient advocate wants anti-vax DHB psychiatrist dismissed

7:27 am on 13 October 2021

A Wellington psychiatrist has promoted anti-vax views in multiple videos online and is still on the job, five months after his first video was released.

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A patient advocate says it is important all medical professionals support their patients through the vaccination process. Photo: AFP

The chair of one Lower Hutt mental health support service said the Hutt Valley District Health Board (DHB) employee has to go.

In the videos, consultant psychiatrist Dr Emanuel Garcia said he was "deeply concerned" about the Pfizer vaccine rollout.

"I'll be very clear and upfront about this, I will not take these vaccines for a lot of good reasons. As a doctor, as a psychiatrist, as a citizen, I will not take this vaccine."

He works with an especially vulnerable population.

Research published in the New Zealand Medical Journal in July said people with mental health problems could be up to twice as likely to die from Covid-19, and people with psychosis and schizophrenia specifically were up to four times as likely.

In a statement, Hutt Valley mental health and addictions executive director Karla Bergquist said the DHB did not support the promotion of anti-vaccination messages.

"The comments made by Dr Garcia do not reflect the views of the DHB and were expressly made in a personal capacity.

"All employees are required to act impartially in the context of their employment and to ensure their personal beliefs do not impact on their work."

But Lower Hutt mental health advocacy and support service Oasis Network chair Cecelia Henderson told RNZ: "I don't think he should be in his job, quite frankly.

"You need to have faith in your psychiatrist, saying 'yes you can do this'."

She has lived with mental illness for decades and was anxious about getting her Pfizer doses, but support from medical experts and peers helped her get immunised.

"There was a sense of nervousness, but once I found that my friend had it, I could get it. She is on the same medication as I am, so I thought: 'Well if she can do it, I can do it.'"

General Practice New Zealand chair Dr Jeff Lowe wrote to all primary health organisations in the country this week, calling on them to report anti-vax health clinicians to the Medical Council.

He said people with mental health conditions were particularly susceptible to vaccine misinformation.

"If people are straying beyond the evidence base - and we do have good evidence from what's happening in New Zealand and overseas - then one could be seriously compromising our duty of care that we owe to all of our patients. Someone acting outside of that, I think, really needs to come under question."

The Medical Council has received at least 23 complaints about Covid-19 anti-vax doctors, and the Health and Disability Commissioner has received 35 complaints about 11 health providers spreading Covid-19 anti-vax information - eight being doctors.

Dr Garcia would not comment to RNZ about his statements, or what the newly announced vaccination mandate meant for him.

On Monday Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced that Cabinet has moved to mandate the vaccination of high-risk workers in the health and disability sector by the earlier date of 1 December 2021.

Those high-risk workers include general practitioners, pharmacists, community health nurses, midwives, paramedics, and all healthcare workers in sites where vulnerable patients are treated.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists was unavailable for comment about Dr Garcia's views.

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