Coronavirus: Chris Hipkins hits out at 'deliberate misinformation' on COVID-19 vaccines

The Health Minister has slammed the "deliberate misinformation" that the Government was reportedly going to make COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory. 

Chris Hipkins said on Thursday these false reports have been circulating social media and have caused many concerned members of the public to contact him.

"This morning, I spent some time signing out correspondence, as we do as ministers, and I have to say I was alarmed at the number of letters I've received from people concerned that the Government would be making COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory," he said during a press conference.

"This is a direct result of deliberate misinformation that's being spread through social media. The Government is not making COVID-19 or any other vaccinations compulsory."

He added while the Government will encourage New Zealanders to get vaccinated once one is available, it won't make it compulsory.

The New Zealand Public Party was blasted in August for sharing a video that falsely claimed COVID-19 vaccines were mandatory under a new law the Government had passed.

Key parts of MPs' speeches were cut out to doctor the meaning of what they were saying in the video, which was uploaded to the party's Facebook page.

The video plays ominous music as subtitles flash up on the screen with the incorrect claim, which said: "Labour passed a law change… They gave themselves the power… To force citizens to be vaccinated."

Andrew Geddis, a professor of law at Otago University, told AFP Fact Check in August the Government cannot - even under the COVID-19 Public Health Act - force anyone to be vaccinated as it would go against the New Zealand Bill of Rights.

"The Minister of Health can only make orders under the legislation if satisfied that the order does not limit or is a justified limit on the rights and freedoms in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990​, which then states in S11 that 'everyone has the right to refuse to undergo any medical treatment'." 

Hipkins has previously urged New Zealanders to be cautious about potential COVID-19 misinformation that is shared online and wants people to take it with a grain of salt and treat it as a rumour if it hasn't come from an official source.

"That is [treating it as] unverified and therefore something that cannot be relied upon to be true or accurate," he said in August.

His comments came after a rumour circulated social media that wrongly claimed Auckland's virus resurgence was due to a young woman infiltrating a quarantine facility.

He said anyone that pushes false rumours should "stop doing that".

"At a time when we are fighting a pandemic, we need all hands on deck to beat it down. This sort of behaviour is deliberately designed to create panic, fear and confusion, and it is completely unacceptable."

He added Kiwis should get their information from official sources, such as the daily 1pm briefings or official social media pages.