Coronavirus: Expert Rod Jackson slams 'malignant people who are just making up stuff' about vaccines

One of the country's top infectious disease experts is begging Kiwis to stop believing the "made-up" nonsense about vaccines being spread on social media by "malignant people". 

Rod Jackson's plea comes as the country moves into the 'traffic light' system, which allows people vaccinated against COVID-19 greater freedoms than those who aren't. 

The University of Auckland epidemiologist says the new restrictions will "keep vaccinated people safer because they're not going to have to interact as often with unvaccinated people", which will also give those who can't be vaccinated - such as children - better protection too. 

"Secondly, it should encourage even more people - a substantial proportion of those people are still vaccine hesitant - to get vaccinated," he told Newshub.

New Zealand currently ranks 18th in the world for first doses and 25th for second, according to the New York Times' tracker, which measures total population coverage. As for those eligible - 12-plus - the Ministry of Health says 93 percent have had their first dose and 86 their second. 

That leaves just 7 percent of adults yet to get a dose - not all of whom are avid anti-vaxxers, says Dr Jackson. 

"There's a very good chance that a significant proportion of the vaccine hesitant will move over the hill that's before them and get vaccinated," he said, many wanting to enjoy the freedoms that being vaccinated brings. "I strongly advise them to do that. Vaccination is not going away."

Considering the other benefits of vaccination - not dying, for example - some might wonder why we haven't yet achieved the stellar vaccination rates of the likes of Chile, Portugal, Spain and Singapore. 

"There's a very, very small proportion who are, 'I'll get vaccinated over my dead body.' That's a tiny proportion of people," said Dr Jackson. 

Most of the others he thinks have simply been led astray by misinformation. 

"Most of what people hear about the vaccines being unsafe are completely made up. They're just made up. I daily get sent information which - because I understand this data - I can tell someone has just sat down and completely made it up.

"There is a very small group of people that, whatever their motivation, are basically just trying to create anarchy, and it's scaring a lot of people... it will lead to death."

Rod Jackson models a self-designed T-shirt for Newshub Nation.
Rod Jackson models a self-designed T-shirt for Newshub Nation. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

A report in November found a 100-fold increase in the amount of false information being spread online since the Delta variant arrived on our shores in August. While mainstream social media has made moves to ban the worst offenders, including local peddlers like Voices for Freedom, they still have audiences on unmoderated forums. 

"There's people out there who are vaccine hesitant for a whole lot of reasons who are being manipulated by a tiny number of malignant people who are just making up stuff," said Dr Jackson. "You've got to stop looking at social media for your evidence - you've got a fantastic media in New Zealand, they're competent, they're responsible. You don't have to go far to find good evidence on the benefits and any of the harms of vaccines. 

"Stop looking at social media for your information - go to mainstream media." 

'We're going to get more cases'

While vaccines have proven beyond doubt they offer protection against serious illness and death against all the variants prior to Omicron, each successive variant has shown greater ability to infect the vaccinated. 

Even countries with high levels of coverage - such as Singapore - have had to reintroduce restrictions to control recent outbreaks of the Delta variant. 

Despite this, National Party leader Christopher Luxon on Friday said Auckland - the epicentre of the New Zealand outbreak, in particular the at-risk Counties Manukau region - shouldn't be at 'red'.

"As soon as we open up, we're going to get more cases," said Dr Jackson. "The more we open up , the more cases we'll get. But if people are vaccinated, they're so much safer - 95 percent reduction in serious disease and death, which is the key bottom line." 

The data from Singapore, he said, shows for the vaccinated, COVID-19 is about as serious as the flu. 

"If you're not vaccinated, it's 20 times worse than the flu - causes lots of hospitalisation, long COVID, death... we can live with some COVID if most of us are vaccinated." 

Of the 8745 cases in the Delta outbreak, just 1266 of them were fully vaccinated - despite making up the vast majority of the population. Unvaccinated people make up the majority of hospitalised cases, despite being a significant minority.