Coronavirus: Jacinda Ardern confident enough Kiwis will get COVID-19 vaccine for herd immunity without being forced to

Conspiracy theorists have claimed a COVID-19 vaccine, when available, will be "forced" on everyone - including Kiwis.

The Government has rubbished those claims, made most notably by Jami-Lee Ross and Billy Te Kahika's Advance NZ. 

On Tuesday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern went a step further, saying not only will there be no forced vaccinations, but those who choose to opt-out won't face any penalties at all. 

"No, and we haven't for any vaccination in New Zealand applied penalties in that way," Ardern told The AM Show, after being asked if there might be tax penalties or other sanctions for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine. 

"But I would say for anyone who doesn't take up an effective and tested and safe vaccine when it's available, that will come at a risk to them."

Vaccines can still be effective without 100 percent coverage through what's known as herd immunity. If most people have been vaccinated, the virus will rarely come into contact with new hosts - meaning outbreaks are snuffed out before they can reach vulnerable people who can't be vaccinated, such as young babies or those with medical conditions. 

The anti-vaccination movement propelled into the mainstream by a fraudulent study published in the late 1990s, has seen reduced uptake of the MMR vaccine in some places, leading to new outbreaks of measles - a disease once considered eliminated from much of the world. 

It's not known yet what level of the population will need to be vaccinated for herd immunity against COVID-19 to work.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it'll be mandatory in Australia for those without complicating health conditions, hoping for 95 percent take-up - which should be enough to bring about herd immunity. 

"There are always exemptions for any vaccine on medical grounds, but that should be the only basis," he said in August. "We are talking about a pandemic that has destroyed the global economy and taken the lives of hundreds of thousands all around the world and over 430 Australians here."

The number of Australians who have died during the pandemic has almost doubled since those comments a month ago. Australia also has sanctioned beneficiaries who don't get their kids immunised. Since the 'no jab no pay' policy was introduced in 2016, vaccination rates for Aussie children have improved. 

Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: The AM Show

Ardern has confidence Kiwis will get the vaccine when it's available without compulsion though, playing down the influence of the anti-vaccination movement.

"If you look at the levels of vaccination we manage to reach in New Zealand, they are high. People talk about anti-vaxxers -  actually, the bigger issue in New Zealand is more than Dr Bloomfield calls vaccination hesitancy. It's not people who are strongly morally opposed - it's more people who just need a bit of extra support, remove the barriers, a bit more information. 

"I see no reason to [have penalties]. We get up well over 90 percent for our vaccinations without that, and I believe we will for this."