Coronavirus: Church leaders preach the good word about vaccines

Church leaders have launched a campaign urging people to get their COVID-19 vaccinations, fighting against "echo chambers" of misinformation on social media amongst their communities. 

"We know that 80 percent of Pasifika communities have some sort of affiliation with churches, church communities," John Kleinsman, director of the Catholic Church's The Nathaniel Centre for Bioethics, told The AM Show on Tuesday.  

"Our networks, we're able to use those to reach those people and get the message through to those people." 

There are concerns vaccine uptake amongst Pasifika and Maori might be lagging other ethnicities, despite being more likely to be in a priority group. Group 2 (which had first dibs on the free jabs outside of border workers) included older Maori and Pasifika as well as their carers, while Group 3 (the next cab off the rank) included people with underlying health conditions, which are typically more prevalent in Maori and Pasifika than others. 

It would appear fewer Maori and Pasifika are getting the jab, compared to others. Just 6.1 percent of doses administered to date have gone to Pasifika, despite making up 7.4 percent of the population; and just 9 percent to Maori, despite being more than 16 percent of the population. 

Whilst there might be other demographic reasons these numbers are lagging - such as the fact a high percentage of Maori and Pasifika are young, and still ineligible for the vaccine - Dr Kleinsman suspects anti-vaccination misinformation and lies are creating hesitancy. 

"Misinformation is not a new phenomenon. There are various diseases around the world which over the last 20 years have been increasing simply because of the dropoff in vaccinations. Vaccination hesitancy is not something new… Misinformation is very, very dangerous and that's why we thought we'd get out on the front foot and try to get some good information out there and dispel some of those myths."

Anti-vaccination activists have upped their activities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their claims include the vaccines haven't been tested enough, are still in trials, are much deadlier than previous vaccines, can change people's DNA or cause illness worse than the disease itself. Experts have repeatedly debunked the claims, but the message doesn't appear to be getting through to some communities, Dr Kleinsman said, drowned out in "echo chambers" on social media.

"I'm not a medical doctor or a researcher, but we've been following this very closely. The vaccines are safe and effective. I don't think there are any other vaccines that have been rigorously tested or as closely observed as these particular ones."

Dr Kleinsman said it's important for people who get the vaccine - particularly if they were apprehensive at first - to spread the word to their friends and family about how important it is. He's getting his first jab next week.