Weekend Herald

Virus lies, vaccine scams raise fears

- Amy Wiggins

More than 800 reports of Covid-19 misinforma­tion and more than 30 claims of vaccine scams have been reported, but that probably represents a fraction of the real number affected.

This comes as more anti-vaccine flyers are turning up in Auckland letterboxe­s purporting to tell the “real facts” about Covid-19 and the Pfizer vaccine.

Kiwis had reported 835 instances of misinforma­tion around Covid-19 and the vaccine to CERT NZ by July 9, the Ministry of Health said. There had also been 34 reports of vaccine scams.

The ministry could not provide details on how many different publicatio­ns the reports related to, but CERT NZ had details of five different scams listed on their website.

Two of the scams were emails asking people to take part in a vaccine survey, one was a Facebook account claiming people were eligible for Covid-19 relief payments, one offered the vaccine for sale for $49.99 and another advised people to go online and “vote” to secure their vaccine.

Associate Professor at the University of Auckland and vaccinolog­ist Helen Petousis-Harris acknowledg­ed the number of reports would not reflect the scale of the problem.

“Most people will screw it up and throw it in the bin,” she said.

The campaigns often used propaganda techniques to sway beliefs and influence those who already had reservatio­ns.

“It can raise concerns where previously there were none.” She called the scammers “predators” and the “lowest of the low”.

“I know that there’s been some misinforma­tion that’s been spread very widely and put in people’s letterboxe­s, which really puts it in people’s face. This can really antagonise people and provoke them into reporting these sorts of things.”

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government was focused on providing clear and transparen­t informatio­n so Kiwis could make informed decisions.

“From time to time, we’re all likely to have seen social media posts attempting to call the vaccinatio­n process into question. When that happens, it’s important those messages can be countered with science-based, accurate responses,” he said.

A Ministry of Health spokesman said it was important people used reliable sources and carefully considered what they passed on.

“The Ministry of Health’s focus is on providing clear, consistent access to trusted and transparen­t informatio­n. We are aware, however, there is some material circulatin­g in the community that comments on the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines.”

A Mt Eden resident who received the latest flyer said he was concerned.

“This is the second time in recent weeks that someone has handdelive­red Covid misinforma­tion to our street. It’s worrying because the pamphlet looks profession­al, but its contents encourage really dangerous public health behaviour.”

The same flyer, made and distribute­d by Voices of Freedom, ended up in Christchur­ch letterboxe­s last month.

A fully vaccinated Christchur­ch woman who had health problems that put her at serious risk of dying from Covid said the flyer made her furious.

After the Christchur­ch incident, Petousis-Harris said the flyer was misleading and contained emotive language: “Such as ‘banned’ and ‘we’re not allowed to know’ and ‘health authoritie­s are ignoring this’, and ‘experiment­al’ . . . it leads you to kind of think that ‘maybe there must be some conspiracy going on here’ so it’s very misleading.”

The Ministry of Health said all official communicat­ions on vaccines would be from Unite Against Covid-19, the Ministry of Health websites and their social media channels.

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