9 Dec 2021

Unofficial Covid-19 vaccine exemptions 'very unethical' - Hipkins

4:11 pm on 9 December 2021

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has condemned the actions of a GP filmed handing out certificates as bogus vaccine exemptions.

Dr Jonie Girouard.

Screengrab from a Newshub report which filmed a Kaiapoi GP coaching patients on unofficial vaccine exemptions. Photo: A screengrab from Newshub

Newshub filmed a Kaiapoi GP undercover coaching clients on how to get away with using them.

Dr Jonie Girouard, who runs a weight loss clinic, was filmed using a hidden camera as she spoke to people in her waiting room. "You're here because you're not crazy about being vaccinated. Great, okay you are in the right spot," she said. "I mean really this is horrible, horrible medicine."

The doctor told a Newshub reporter, posing as wanting an exemption so he could work on mandated building sites, how to do "spiel" to potential employers. "They don't know what they're doing, you got to coach them."

She told patients one of her certificates had been used for international travel. "I have had someone be able to fly to Australia last week on one, so I mean we have had some success stories reported back to us," she was filmed as saying.

Exemptions must be approved by the Ministry of Health, and cannot be issued by health professionals.

The GP was filmed saying she was not vaccinated.

Covid-19 response Minister Chris Hipkins told Morning Report he was sure there would be investigations by the ministry and the GPs' professional body.

He said information the doctor was handing out was wrong.

Hipkins said it was "very unethical behaviour - it almost certainly doesn't meet the standards that the GP profession set for themselves".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Ministry of Health was looking closely into what was occurring.

"I think everyone would be disappointed and upset to see a health professional who is undertaking activity in this way that puts others at risk."

"I understand the Ministry of Health is working on this issue as we speak.

"If a medical professional is not vaccinated they should not be operating. We have a requirement on our workforce now that they are vaccinated."

Dr Jonie Girouard's weight loss centre in Kaiapoi.

Dr Jonie Girouard's clinic in Kaiapoi. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Medical Association chair Dr Alistair Humphrey said police should investigate.

Humphrey said he had been told police were aware of the report.

There was case law that doctors could be successfully prosecuted for fraud if they were found to have issued false certificates, he said.

Investigations by the College of GPs or the Health and Disability Commissioner would any follow any police inquiry, he said.

Humphrey said everyone knew a GP could not issue an exemption. "Employers should be aware that any of this kind of note is not the appropriate way of going about it."

He said she was not a member of the Medical Association.

The Health and Disability Commissioner has received 11 complaints about vaccination exemptions provided by health professionals but could not say if Girouard was the subject of a complaint due to privacy rules, it said.

The Medical Council, the body that ensures doctors are competent and fit to practise, said it has received a notification about Dr Girouard's vaccine exemptions.

It said it is now considering the concerns raised in the original Newshub story.

Chair Dr Curtis Walker said there is no room for anti-vaccination messages in professional practice or conducting in-person consultations while unvaccinated.

The Ministry of Health said it is writing to Dr Girouard today, to remind her that it is a breach of public health orders to continue seeing patients face to face, if she remains unvaccinated.

The ministry said as well as its reminder notice, it is also continuing to investigate the matter.

It said it is critical for staff working in the health and disability sector to be vaccinated.

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