Coronavirus: Fears there could be more doctors issuing bogus vaccine exemptions

There could be a couple of dozen Kiwi general practitioners open to issuing bogus vaccine exemptions, one of the country's top doctors fears. 

Newshub on Wednesday revealed an unvaccinated Canterbury doctor, Jonie Girouard, has been seeing patients face-to-face, carrying out minimal checks - for example, a simple blood pressure test - then writing them exemptions

Seeing patients in person while unvaccinated is potentially a breach of the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Order 2021, which prohibits unvaccinated "health practitioners providing health services to patients in person".

The order requires vaccination for people in a range of front-facing and border roles, noting only those with "a COVID-19 vaccination exemption granted by the Director-General" are exempt. 

Royal College of General Practitioners medical director Bryan Betty told The AM Show on Thursday he was alerted to Dr Girouard's activities last week, and said there was a strict criteria for getting an exemption. 

"An application goes to the Ministry of Health. That is signed off by a committee at the Ministry of Health and an exemption is given. Any vaccine exemption that is written outside of that is not valid. That may be something that is not understood in the wider community or by employers. 

"There is only one pathway for getting a vaccine exemption in this country. It is very defined, it is very clear and anything outside of that is not applicable and it is in fact void." 

GPs can apply for an exemption on behalf of a patient, and they have to supply documentation "certifying that they have reviewed the person’s medical history and assessed the person’s state of health and have reasonable grounds for believing that the person meets the specified COVID-19 vaccination exemption criteria".

When Newshub sent in a reporter undercover, the consultation lasted just six minutes.

"It's disappointing," said Dr Betty. "It's certainly probably not acceptable… this will be referred on to the Medical Council, which is the regulatory body for saying whether someone can practise as a doctor."

WorkSafe, the Ministry of Health and the Health and Disability Commissioner are also looking into Dr Girouard, whose website went offline Wednesday night after Newshub's investigation aired. Sources told Newshub the police might get involved too.

Dr Girouard did not respond to Newshub's request for a response. In the undercover she can be heard telling patients she'd "stop practicing medicine before I get vaccinated with this vaccine". This vaccine - made by BioNTech and Pfizer - makes it less likely you'll be infected and dozens of times less likely you'll die if you do catch COVID-19.  

Bryan Betty.
Bryan Betty. Photo credit: The AM Show

Dr Girouard has been a practicing GP in New Zealand since 2015, but according to her site -  before it went dark - still does remote consultations in the US. 

With her husband Michael P Girouard, they also run weight-loss clinics in Wyoming and North Carolina. Curiously, Michael has a page on their website dedicated to dispelling claims he's under investigation, blaming the "rumours" on "individuals and competitors [using] defamatory statements and lies to smear" his name. 

They promote the use of a hormone called hCG, extracted from the placenta during pregnancy, to assist in weight loss. The US Food and Drug Administration has said there's no evidence it works, warning would-be users to stay well away

Dr Betty fears there might be other rogue doctors like Dr Girouard out there - but not too many. 

"It's a very small number. We have about 5500 general practitioners across New Zealand - we think there's probably less than 30 that hold strong anti-vax views, and of that number this is the first case I've heard."