4 Aug 2021

Port worker vaccinations: 'A disproportionate uptake of misinformation'

3:14 pm on 4 August 2021

Misinformation is what has kept 44 percent of port workers from getting even a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine, Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins says, and it raises concerns about the rollout's later stages.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

While he revealed this afternoon that two million doses of the Pfizer vaccine had now been delievered in this country, Hipkins said he was "very concerned" about the port workers statistic while under questioning at the Select Committee this morning.

"Based on the feedback I've had from representatives of port workers ... there does appear to be a disproportionate uptake of misinformation by port workers that is increasing hesitancy," he said.

He said it was also a concern for overall vaccination rates, and misinformation would likely become an even greater problem as the vaccine rollout continued.

"Misinformation overall is something that I think is going to become more of a problem for us as we get towards the end of the year," he said.

"At the moment our numbers are very good every day because there is good demand there and we are working our way through that. As we get into the latter part of the year where all those who are eager to be vaccinated have come forward and been vaccinated, the misinformation is really going to have an impact on us reaching those higher levels taht we really need to get to."

Protesters decrying the vaccine were outside Parliament today.

Hipkins said at the weekly vaccine update this afternoon the spreading of misinformation about the vaccine was reprehensible.

"The information that they are being told is wrong. People are actively lying and sharing information that is going to cause harm, potentially, to those people because they wouldn't take up the opportunity to make themselves and their family safer ... I think that's reprehensible."

"It is still gonna be voluntary, and I want to be absolutely clear about that, notwithstanding what people might have heard from other sources close to this building today. We are not going to be forcing people to be vaccinated."

He had a message for the protesters, and any others were concerned about the vaccine.

"Just be informed. Speak to people who can provide good, factual, impartial information. If you don't trust politicians - a lot of New Zealanders don't - speak to your local GP. Speak to someone who is working in the health system, and ask them for factual, reliable information."

Hipkins' National Party counterpart Chris Bishop also noted that 27 percent of people in group 2 were estimated to still not fully vaccinated, and questioned what the government was doing to boost these rates.

Hipkins noted it was not compulsory for all of group 2 to be vaccinated, but "I certainly encourage people to take it up".

"We'll continue to work on that but we're not going to slow the rest of the vaccine rollout because some people in group two have not yet taken up the opportunity. Absolutely confident that everybody in group two has had the opportunity."

"We're working very intensely to provide them with good information ... we've made a change around roles that will be required to be vaccinated."

He said he wanted to ensure all those people who were required to be vaccinated - for example those who needed to board ships or interacting with people coming off ships - but it had to be carefully balanced to keep supply chains running.

Ships' pilots - with only 65 in New Zealand - was an example of why mandating vaccination could strain the system, he said.

"Some of our ports might only have two ships' pilots, if one of them says that they're not willing to be vaccinated then potentially that port may have to close for periods of time when they have ships coming in.

"That's a problem."

He said the number of people affected by the mandatory vaccination orders was not very high however, partly because the ports had changed the way they operated.

"These people have to be regularly tested, there's a reluctance to be regularly tested and so one of the things they've done is actually reduce down the number of people going onto ships, for example, to just those who absolutely have to ... it is not a huge number."

He did not have the exact number of people estimated to be affected, he said.

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