A document Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis relied on to argue against Covid-19 vaccine passes was revised by the Ministry of Health because of its use — or misuse — by anti-vaccination groups.
The ministry had told health professionals in mid-November that, when there was high vaccination coverage, transmission of the disease was “more likely to occur from a vaccinated than an unvaccinated individual”.
Version 2.0 had no such phrase, although it continued to argue denying access to healthcare on the basis of vaccination status would be unacceptable.
Vandervis, who was served a trespass notice this week after he tried to attend a council meeting without a vaccine pass, suggested the council had fostered misconceptions about transmission rates and had mischaracterised the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness.
Ministry of Health chief medical officer Dr Andrew Connolly provided clarity yesterday.
Transmission of Covid-19 was indeed more likely to come from a vaccinated person than an unvaccinated one, because of sheer weight of numbers in a highly vaccinated population.
“That said, the severity of infection and the absolute risk of passing on the virus is dramatically higher in unvaccinated people.”
A recent study had shown when a vaccinated person had Covid-19, they were far less likely to infect unvaccinated households.
Connolly said changes were made to the ministry’s document after consultation.
It was revised “because aspects were being misrepresented by anti-vaccination groups and we did not want to dilute the overarching message that pre-consultation testing of unvaccinated patients was generally not necessary”.
The Otago Daily Times asked University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis about another ministry statement cited by Vandervis: “The legislation will be very clear that access to essential services, including healthcare services, cannot be restricted based on vaccination status.”
Local government was essential, Vandervis argued.
Geddis said places people could not be excluded from were spelled out, but local government offices were not on the list.
Vandervis could challenge the DCC’s policy in the High Court, but Geddis said that would be costly and time-consuming, and if Vandervis argued for interim access the council could argue access by Zoom was sufficient.
Council chief executive Sandy Graham said remote access had been in place for Vandervis for Tuesday’s meeting, but he “walked past a security guard and into the Civic Centre and Municipal Chambers”.
“The security guard asked to see Cr Vandervis’ vaccine pass, but could not prevent him from entering, as he had limited powers to physically intervene.”
A three-month trespass notice was issued, which Geddis said would need to be lifted early if Vandervis got vaccinated.
Graham said the law was clear access to council premises could be denied after a health and safety risk assessment.
A Local Government New Zealand spokesman said councils had adapted to online meetings before, or at the start of, the pandemic — and while attending meetings online “can be less than ideal for some, it is an effective way for an elected member to perform their duties as a representative of their community”.
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