12 Oct 2023

Nurse who shared Covid-19 vaccine misinformation will be allowed to practice again

2:46 pm on 12 October 2023
Vaccination centre

The woman shared misinformation about the vaccine through Facebook posts and during an interview with PMN Tokelau in 2021. (file image) Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Updated 13 October 2023: This story has been updated to say the 12-month suspension took effect from 7 September 2023.

A nurse and midwife who was suspended for sharing misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccine has been suspended from practice for 12 months.

In a decision released on Friday, the Health Practitioner's Disciplinary Tribunal found Auckland nurse Sarai Tepou guilty of professional misconduct for her Facebook posts and an interview with PMN Tokelau in 2021 about the vaccine.

Tepou also distributed letter templates entitled "refusal for vax" for parents to give to their children's schools.

Tepou posted on Facebook that she "did not trust her peers", and urged people to stay away from hospitals: "Most peers pricked."

The Professional Conduct Committee told the Tribunal that Tepou was "a respected member of the Pacific community" and as both a registered midwife and registered nurse, had a lot of influence.

"The practitioner is Tokelauan and Tuvaluan and therefore has the ability, in her capacity as a dual-registered health professional, to influence marginalised and vulnerable communities who were prioritised by the Ministry of Health in the government's Covid-19 vaccine roll-out."

In a written decision dated 7 September, the tribunal noted "the religious tenor" of some of her comments were an aggravating factor, given the importance of faith within some parts of the Tokelauan community.

It said Tepou - who did not attend the hearing in November or send a lawyer - undermined confidence in the vaccine at a time when vaccination rates in the Tokelauan community were lagging behind.

She was censured and suspended from practice for a year following the hearing.

The 12-month suspension took effect from 7 September, when the written decision was released.

Within six months of returning to practice, she must complete a course in professional ethics.

Tepou was also ordered to pay 40 percent of the hearing's costs: $9890.75 to the Professional Conduct Committee and $12,962.08 to the tribunal.

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