15 Dec 2021

Covid-19: Relief as anti-vax psychiatrist suspended

4:25 pm on 15 December 2021

The suspension of an anti-Covid-19 vaccination psychiatrist has brought relief to a mental health patient advocate, but she is worried the damage has already been done.

MIQ and border workers getting Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine.

Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Health

Hutt Valley DHB consultant Dr Emanuel Garcia is one of three doctors the New Zealand Medical Council has suspended - and is investigating - after complaints were laid about them pushing personal anti-vax views onto others.

Radiologist Dr Peter Canaday and GP Dr Matthew Shelton are the other two suspended.

In October, RNZ exposed Dr Garcia's online videos, denouncing the vaccine, that dated back as far as May this year.

Lower Hutt's Oasis Network vice-chair Cecelia Henderson has been calling for him to be struck off, for months.

"It's taken a while to get him suspended, but he has been in mental health for ages ... for years. A lot of people would have had him for a long, long time - people who really need to have the jab."

She said psychiatrists could be "life-changing" for their patients - some trust psychiatrists more than anyone else in their lives - but she said that also made patients more vulnerable to anti-vax practitioners.

"If you don't have trust in your psychiatrist, who do you trust?

"Everybody's on different medication, and we trust our psychiatrists to give us the right information."

Henderson felt for Dr Garcia's patients who would have to change psychiatrists during mental illness, but in her view, they would be better off.

"Finally people are going to see why he needed to be suspended."

International studies have shown Covid-19 death rates and hospitalisation rates have been higher among those with mental illness, than those without.

Research published in the New Zealand Medical Journal this year stated: "The risk of dying from Covid-19 may be up to twice as high for people with experience of mental health and addiction issues, and even higher for people with certain diagnoses and more complex needs.

"For example, people experiencing psychosis or schizophrenia may have a risk from 2.7 to 4.4 times higher than people without these experiences."

In a statement, Medical Council chair Dr Curtis Walker (Te Whakatōhea, Ngāti Porou) said there was "no place for anti-vaccination messages in professional practice, nor any promotion of anti-vaccination claims including on social media and advertising by health practitioners".

"The Medical Council takes these matters very seriously, and steps in as early as possible when a notification is made, or information comes to light, to put in place any necessary arrangements if it considers that the doctor poses a risk of harm to the public, or if an interim measure is appropriate pending an investigation."

The three suspended doctors have appealed the council's decisions to the District Court.

A hearing will be held in February.

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