NZ Election 2020: Advance NZ leader Jami-Lee Ross grilled on COVID-19 claims

Advance NZ co-leader Jami-Lee Ross says he won't be getting the COVID-19 vaccine, should one be ready soon.

The former National Party MP, whose Advance NZ has teamed up with conspiracy theorist Billy Te Kahika's Public Party, says no one should be taking "rushed vaccines".

"I'm vaccinated in the normal sense, and so are my children, but I think it's a question of personal freedom and medical freedom, and sovereignty is so important," he told Newshub Nation. 

"I'm saying that the vaccine is being rushed. The last time we had a rushed vaccine it took four years."

There are around 130 different vaccines in development, according to the New York Times, in an unprecedented global effort to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. Of those, 42 are already in human trials. One was briefly halted when a single person came down with a rare neurological condition, perhaps unrelated to the trial, which has since resumed.

While some vaccines have been rushed into production - notably one produced in Russia - most experts say it's likely to be 2021 before any are rolled out more widely. Phase 3 trials, when experimental vaccines are tested on tens of thousands of volunteers, can take months or years to complete. 

Some experts fear the first vaccines available might not be as effective as later ones, if they're rushed into production. 

The quickest vaccine ever produced was for mumps, and took four years - but involved only a single research lab. Billions of dollars have poured into the international effort to find a vaccine for COVID-19, which has killed almost 1 million people already. 

 Advance NZ in August refused to take down a video the party uploaded falsely claiming the Government had passed a law to "force citizens to be vaccinated". 

Jami-Lee Ross on Newshub Nation.
Jami-Lee Ross on Newshub Nation. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

Flu vs COVID-19

In the interview, Ross also claimed more Brits are being killed by the flu than COVID-19 now. While many British tabloids have reported this, it's not true according to London charity Full Fact, a fact-checking organisation. 

"There isn't evidence for this," the charity wrote, after analysing the statistics in-depth. "Most of the people with influenza or pneumonia mentioned somewhere on their death certificate probably did not die with either as the underlying cause. And among those who did, the underlying cause was especially unlikely to be flu."

COVID-19 on the other hand was the underlying cause in 93 percent of deaths where it was a factor. 

In recent years, the maximum number of flu deaths in the UK in a 12-month period is estimated to be 22,000. COVID-19 has already killed 42,000 Brits, and they're not even into their winter yet. 

Ross also claimed COVID-19's fatality rate is "similar to seasonal flu", which experts say is not correct. While the exact fatality rate is not clear, with some cases not being detected, studies have found it to be between 0.5 and 1 percent - about five to 10 times more deadly at minimum. 

In the US, which has had the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the world, more than 200,000 have died of COVID-19 - a figure already more than five times higher than its average annual flu death toll, and the virus has only been in the US for eight months. 

The long-term effects of COVID-19 also appear to be potentially more dangerous than the flu, with some experiencing symptoms months after they recover from the initial sickness. Ross dismissed this, saying: "We know what the long-term consequences of this Government's decisions are - it's people losing their jobs." 

The most recent Statistics NZ data suggested unemployment was flat. Treasury predicts a rise to about 7.8 percent in the next two years - about half what the US, which has had a largely incoherent response to the pandemic, experienced. 


Ross also distanced himself from his co-leader's claims the pandemic was planned.

"Advance NZ has never said that. I am the co-leader with Billy Te Kahika of that party. The Advance NZ policy is not using those words. Our view is that we need to have a new strategy, our view is that we need to learn to live with the virus...

"When [Te Kahika] was first starting out there were a range of views that were expressed that perhaps should have been done in a better way. We've tidied things up, we are back on track."

Billy Te Kahika.
Billy Te Kahika. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

False poll claims

Ross finished with a false claim about how well his party is doing in the polls.

"There has been only one network poll since we were registered and we appeared on that higher than every other small party that's been existing for a long period of time."

Advance NZ registered on August 6. The latest TVNZ-Colmar Brunton poll put them on 0.8 percent - below New Zealand First (2.4 percent), the New Conservatives (1.6 percent), The Opportunities Party (1.1 percent) and the Māori Party (0.9 percent).