The increase of vaccine hesitancy caused by misinformation about the safety of the COVID vaccine is frustrating, and needs to stop, says Dr Bryan Betty, medical director at The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.
General practitioners field dozens of questions every day on the COVID-19 vaccine. Everything from, "Does it cause disease?" "Does it alter my DNA?" and "Does it interact with medication I’m already taking?" The short answer is that the vaccine is well-tested, safe and effective.
As a profession, we have been closely watching international vaccine rollouts and the data being produced. The Pfizer vaccine, which is used in New Zealand, has been administered to millions around the world with no more serious side-effects than the flu vaccine, and it has been tracked and monitored more than any other vaccine in history.
Dr Samantha Murton, College President says, "GPs are the first point of contact for health advice in our communities. We have a clear responsibility to ensure patients get evidence-based advice and understand how the vaccine will protect them, their whānau, and others we encounter daily so they can make an informed choice."
The knowledge that some of the misinformation about the vaccine is being passed onto patients by others in the medical profession is very concerning.
"The misinformation being spread by individuals and groups who often hide behind the Internet is one thing. The problem becomes harder to address when it comes from those who have medical or science backgrounds. This is a group that needs to be unified in their goal to keep New Zealand COVID-free," says Dr Betty.
With COVID’s reach extending to every corner of the world, and new mutations occurring as the virus evolves, New Zealand’s focus is rightly on keeping ahead of the surges and keeping it out of our communities. But this strategy is dependent on us as individuals and our uptake of the vaccine.
Looking ahead, the time will come when our borders will need to open further. When that time comes, New Zealand will need to, as much as possible, be fully vaccinated as a country.
The last scenario we want to see is a widespread resurgence of the virus in our currently COVID-free communities. As we have seen recently in Melbourne, it takes just one person to trigger an outbreak.
"No one, especially those of us in the health sector, wants to go back to the situation of dealing with a huge caseload of COVID-19 testing and patient uncertainty when we’re also trying to deliver great healthcare to our communities," says Dr Betty.