Rotorua’s mayor says she is “intolerant of anti-vaxxers” and has pleaded for people to get vaccinated to avoid future lockdowns.
Yesterday the Government announced the “significant milestone” of one million people fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Speaking to Local Democracy Reporting, mayor Steve Chadwick said her “tolerance for anti-vaccinators is wearing very thin”.
She said vaccination figures needed to rise to achieve herd immunity.
“I’m intolerant of anti-vaxxers. I just think, though, [people] need help with the message of what’s their fear and that’s better from a health professional.”
She said if people were concerned about the vaccine and didn’t get it, it could have implications for their future ability to travel, and the country needed many people to get the vaccine to “get moving again”.
Chadwick, who is over 70, said she had received both doses of the vaccine, which she described as “fine, and a very good service too”.
Auckland University vaccinologist associate professor Helen Petousis-Harris said getting the vaccine was important not just to protect the individual but also “the people around you”.
“Look at what the scientific consensus is – what’s the opinion of the world’s experts in this area?
“I appreciate that for a lot of people the last thing they trust is the Government.
“Don’t believe everything you see on the internet, and on social media and on video platforms.”
She differentiated people who were vaccine-hesitant from those actively spreading anti-vaccine misinformation and deliberately confusing people.
Anti-vaccine campaigners had a “significant negative impact” not just on public health but by “polarising people … and turning them against each other”.
“They’re quite an unpleasant bunch.”
Petousis-Harris said the Covid-19 vaccine used in New Zealand – the Pfizer vaccine – was not the virus itself or even a weakened version of it.
It was part of the Covid-19’s spike protein genetic code (messenger RNA) which, when in the body, acted like instructions for the body to make its own vaccine.
RNA stands for ribonucleic acid. It is a similar, albeit not the same, molecule as DNA.
The body then made its own version of the spike protein and the immune system responded to it.
“If you come across the virus, your body is pre-prepared with some immunity to protect you.
Auckland University associate professor Helen Petousis-Harris. Photo / Supplied
“You’re giving [your body] a heads-up.”
She said there was a lot of misinformation circulating about the vaccine, including that the vaccine altered DNA.
“Which is biologically impossible. MRNA actually cannot enter the area of the cell that contains your DNA. They cannot have anything to do with each other.”
She said the idea the vaccine stayed in your body for a long period of time was also a misconception.
“That’s not true. MRNA is broken down within hours to days.”
Another misconception Petousis-Harris described as “quite popular” was that spike protein created in the body “cavorts around your body and attacks all your blood vessels and causes you to die”.
“The spike protein is broken down inside the cells in which it’s made, it doesn’t flow out into your blood stream… it, too, ceases to exist quite quickly.
“What remains is the immune response that you’ve made to it.”
Other incorrect things people believed also included that the vaccine was not effective against the Delta variant – it was only slightly less effective – and that the vaccine would prevent transmission.
She said that was not true – it reduced transmission but did not prevent it in all people. It was also possible booster shots may be required in the future, similar to the seasonal flu shot.
“There are people trying to actively confuse people on that count.”
The “biggest [misconception] of all” was the speed with which the vaccine was developed.
Petousis-Harris said a lot of the groundwork for the Covid-19 vaccine had been done and the reason it was done so fast was because “the brakes were taken off” on research and development due to the urgency of the pandemic.
Technology for mRNA vaccines had “been around for decades”.
“Yes, it happened quickly but no steps were missed. All of the assessments for safety and efficacy were undertaken as you would for any other vaccine.”
Three Lakes GP Dr Cate Mills said she had not come across a lot of Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy.
“Most people want to be vaccinated.”
Three Lakes GP Cate Mills, centre, with colleagues Katie Snyman (left) and Annie Walden. Photo / File
She said she would “absolutely” encourage people to be vaccinated and the only reason not to was the risk of anaphylaxis, which was very rare.
Doctors were “very happy” to discuss a vaccine with patients and it was important patients knew it could be discussed openly and in a non-judgmental way.
“They should feel comfortable to be able to discuss their hesitations and fears around it.”
She said those fears were usually around the long-term consequences of the vaccine and potential risks.
“To that I would normally say, I agree, we don’t know if there are going to be potential long-term consequences to the vaccination but we do know the consequences to having the Covid virus.
“We know that people can have long-term chronic disease from this virus too.”
She said there was “quite a big difference” between the regular flu and Covid-19.
“The Covid infection is far more serious and lethal for all people who get it, not just elderly or vulnerable people.”