Hardy's Health Stores co-owner apologetic after boasting '99 percent' staff unvaccinated

The owner of a well-known New Zealand natural health store chain is apologetic after stating on Facebook that "99 percent" of its staff are unvaccinated in a now-deleted post.

Diana Burgess, a naturopath who has owned the Hardy's Health Stores brand alongside her businessman husband Vince since 2017, wrote on Facebook that its staff are "supported to make the right informed choice for them" and claimed "at this stage 99 percent are choosing not to get jabbed". 

The post, which included the Hardy's Health Stores logo, has been circulating online with some social media users saying they will boycott the store for not having vaccinated staff.

It has since been deleted and, in an email to Newshub, Vince said it was not an "officially sanctioned Hardy's post". 

"Hardy's supports the Government vaccination program and of course staff vaccination, at this stage we have not requested vaccination status info from our staff."

He said Diana was apologetic and that changes would be made to processes undertaken before a Facebook post is shared to ensure correct information is provided.

Vaccines are not mandatory in New Zealand but all eligible Kiwis are being strongly encouraged to get jabbed for both the personal medical benefits and to safeguard the wider community. 

Lockdowns, like what Auckland and parts of the Waikato are currently experiencing, are likely to continue to be used until 90 percent of people are vaccinated across all demographics.

Speaking to Newshub on Thursday, immunologist and Director of the Malaghan Institute Professor Graham Le Gros said it would be "totally irresponsible" for an employer to act in the way the post had suggested. He said employers have a duty to look after the safety of their staff.

He also emphasised that having a "healthy lifestyle [or] good nutrition will not protect you against infection against a pathogen like COVID-19".

"This virus is designed to bypass all the normal, healthy barriers to infections against just the normal bugs in our environment. 

"This virus bypasses all that and can just sweep them aside. That's why you need to have vaccination to have the second, third and fourth layers of immune defence against highly virulent pathogens."

Prof Le Gros said he has worked as an immunologist for decades "reasearching those natural immune protections to see if there's a better way to boost your immune system to be naturally protected without the need for specific vaccination". 

"I haven't found any yet. They don't work. I have drilled down on some of these claims. They actually don't work," he said. 

"They work when you have people who are completely compromised, who don't have any vitamin C or actually missing some nutritional element. Of course, when you add it back to a normal diet, you see restoring an immune systems functioning, but it doesn't protect you against pathogens."

He said eating, sleeping and exercising well is a good path to having a healthy immune system but to "protect yourself against pathogens, you need the vaccine-induced immune response". 

"I think people really need to think and look after themselves properly here. There's no risk from this vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine is very safe but the virus is not. Make your staff, yourself and your family well, get a vaccine."

While vaccinated people can still be infected with COVID-19 and transmit the virus, the chances of doing so are far smaller. 

An analysis by Public Health England in June found the Pfizer vaccine was 96 percent effective against hospitalisation from the Delta variant after two doses. It was found to be 94 percent effective after a single dose.

As of Thursday, 51 percent of the eligible 12+ population in New Zealand has been fully vaccinated (2,157,447 people), with 80 percent having had their first dose (3,380,704).