Coronavirus: Jacinda Ardern says anti-vaxxers 'quite vocal', but wants Kiwis to 'talk openly about whatever concerns they might have'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she's confident New Zealand can become one of the most highly vaccinated countries in the world against COVID-19, despite the onslaught of misinformation spreading on social media.

After a sluggish start, Kiwis have embraced the vaccine. So far 89 percent of those eligible (aged 12-plus) have had their first jab, and 77 percent their second. This places us 27th in the world for first doses and 34th for second, when total populations are considered. 

But anyone who's been online recently knows not everyone plans to get vaccinated. The latest research by the Ministry of Health has found half of Kiwis have been exposed to misinformation, mostly on social media (70 percent) but also from friends and family (40 percent) and from brochures published by anti-vaccination groups (23 percent). 

In an interview broadcast by Newshub Nation on Saturday morning, Newshub political editor Tova O'Brien put it to Ardern the 4.6 percent of Kiwis identified as "hardcore" anti-vaxxers could "pose a threat" to the Government's reopening plans.

"There's been a consistent theme that actually the group of people who are strongly anti-vaccination remains relatively small," replied Ardern, who recently had to postpone a news conference after activists disrupted it. 

"As you can see, you know, they can be quite vocal. Key for us I think in New Zealand going forward is still to create a place, though - despite the fact that people have very strongly held views either side - where people can still raise questions, because the only way that we will ever move people or enable decisions to be made in favour are if they're able to talk openly about whatever concerns they might have."

At present the most highly vaccinated nation is the United Arab Emirates, according to the New York Times' vaccination tracker, at 89 percent fully jabbed. The UAE has approved jabs for children as young as five. 

"If we are able to reach every other New Zealander, that gives us the opportunity to have as many as 95 percent of our eligible population vaccinated," said Ardern.

"You know, in one DHB, we're actually not that far off it. It demonstrates the high level of vaccination we can reach. Even now, even at the rates we have now, we are fast becoming one of the highly vaccinated countries in the world, and that gives an extra level of protection to New Zealand that will prevent hospitalisations and will protect communities."

The Ministry of Health's research puts the potential ceiling at 85.5 percent of those eligible, which is far short of the 97 percent required across the whole population to achieve herd immunity, according to epidemiologists. Nearly of those yet to be vaccinated say they don't see any need to.

The vaccine vastly reduces your chances of getting infected, and if you're unlucky enough to contract the virus, it reduces your chances of spreading it to someone else. While its protection against transmission appears to wane after six months, the data suggests it's still very good at preventing serious illness and death.

Ardern said contrary to the common view that misinformation on social media is spread by Boomers, the research shows it's young people lapping it up and spreading it. 

"What I've noticed is that there seems to be a split in different age ranges, you know, because when you look at the data of where we've got really good coverage with the vaccine, it is in those higher age groups regardless of ethnicity - sort of really solid, high rates among Pacific communities, Maori communities and of course, the rest…

"[Misinformation] doesn't seem to be prevalent among more of our 50-plus. It does seem to be our younger people, and those younger people are more exposed to social media. There is more disinformation available online, and they are potentially more inclined to also believe that they're safe. 

"So you're right, there is misinformation, it is hitting particular communities and we do have a job to do to reach those young people."

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