Wellness influencer misinformation partly to blame for vaccine-hesitancy in New Zealand - experts

The president of our Royal College of GPs has expressed frustration over people "doing their own research" on COVID-19 vaccines over the internet as a new documentary explores the alarming number of wellness influencers promoting medical misinformation online.

Mindfulness, yoga, clean eating are all promoted and acknowledged as having a positive impact on our physical and mental wellbeing, but other ideas promoted by influencers may be harmful.

Extreme views pushing some parts of the wellness industry toward anti-science is explored in CBS News documentary Conspirituality: How Wellness Became a Gateway for Misinformation.

One influencer who has propagated misinformation online is celebrity chef Pete Evans. He was investigated and fined for promoting a so-called 'hybrid subtle energy revitalisation platform' that cost $15,000 and was said to help with coronavirus.

As the internet has become a dangerous web of misinformation and conspiracy theories, with New Zealand in the grip of a Delta outbreak - are Kiwis being led astray?

Dr Samantha Murton, president of the Royal NZ College of GPs, says she often fields questions from the vaccine-hesitant based on what they've read on the internet.

"They sometimes make statements about the vaccine which you know are not true," says Dr Murton.

"They talk about things like the death rate from the vaccination and that information is being hidden from us [along with] various other statements that we know are not true. 

"As doctors we train in all this stuff for six or seven years and someone reading on the internet reads it over for six or seven minutes, so they don't have a real understanding of how all these things work.

"The internet is full of information but no wisdom or common sense."

Naturopath Erin O'Hara has a science background and mixes elements from both natural and modern medicine in how she treats patients.

She's fielding calls on a daily basis from people who are vaccine-hesitant, particularly younger women.

"The people asking me questions are people that are educated," says O'Hara.

"Not so much anti-vaxxers. Most people are concerned about their own health and what effect it's going to have."

For many of her patients, at the top of their minds is fertility.

"People wondering if they want to have children in 10 years time, is [the vaccine] going to affect their fertility?"

But the Ministry of Health says the Pfizer vaccine used in New Zealand will not affect your genes or fertility. The mRNA from the vaccine does not enter the nucleus of any cells, which is where your DNA is. 

O'Hara says many of those hesitant to take the jab have an interest in wellness.

"They're really conscious of being healthy," she explains.

"They're not the sort of people who would usually take medication and when they're looking at vaccination they see it kind of in that box of being medication."

Dr Murton adds: "The reason that we have the COVID-19 vaccine is because of the prevention of death and the prevention of long-term harm. That's the reason it exists.

"The side-effects of COVID-19 disease are way, way worse."

Basically, if you want medical advice the best advice is to stay off the internet and talk to an actual medical expert.

If you want to have a laugh at a short video or meme - in that case the internet often delivers.

Sign up to receive news updates

By entering your email address, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Newshub and its affiliates may use your email address to provide updates/news, ads, and offers. To withdraw your consent or learn more about your rights, see the Privacy Policy.