Dr Liz Gordon: Leadership on the wrong side of history

The government has laid out its plan.  It has spoken.  The effort over the next month goes into each DHB (I thought they were being abolished, but obviously not yet) getting 90% of people over 12 in its area vaccinated.

Once this is achieved, there is a possibility (infection rates and strain on hospitals allowing) that the country (in three regions) might go to green light status. Go, go, go to once more opening up our society – and living with Covid 19 in our midst. And there’s the rub.

Those who do not get their vaccinations (and, presumably, in the future keep them up to date) will not be able to participate fully in civil society. It is likely they will be excluded from public events. It will be harder for them to send their children to school, eat out and go to church.

As I noted last week, they are likely to catch the disease quite frequently and will get sicker than the vaccinated and some will die.  If we manage 90%, then 400,000 over-12s are in this risky category.  For a less slippery disease, where vaccination stops people catching and spreading it, those people would be protected by herd immunity.   Unfortunately, Covid-19 vaccines do not completely prevent infection and transmission.  They may never do so.

It has been very disappointing to see some leaders, by their words and actions, supporting vaccine refusal. The Thames Mayor, Sandra Goudie, who spent nine years in Parliament but is known primarily for her intransigence (according to reporting), is one such.

The latest ‘intellectual’ position, taken by Sandra Goudie and others, is that the RNA-based vaccines are bad, and that treatments for the disease are improving greatly, so we do not need (this) vaccine.  I received an (out of the blue) email from Alwyn Poole, he of NZ Charter School fame. As far as I know, his email to me was not personal or privileged, so I feel happy repeating part of it here. 

Last Monday I handed in my Teacher Registration. There are genuine health concerns with mRNA vaccines and they are growing and being expressed by very high quality academics

And that little gem of a statement goes to the heart of it. Mr Poole handed in his teacher registration because he believes in and spreads disinformation that the virus is unsafe. Sandra Goudie said the same thing – she might consider getting the Novavax vaccine but not the Pfizer.

I agree with these people that the vaccine is not as effective as one would like to see. But if it is raining hard, a smaller umbrella is definitely better than none at all.

Also, there is something strange about all this. Billions of doses of the Pfizer vaccine have now been administered all around the world. If there were longer term effects, we would know by now.  You can’t say that mRNA-based vaccines are unsafe in themselves (the notion is that they might alter the DNA somehow) because it’s just not true. DNA is the blueprint, RNA the operating system. Not the other way around.

I have also begun to get the feeling that people’s opposition to the vaccine precedes, in most instances, their attempts to explain that opposition. They look for reasons to support their position. Whether the reason is religion (God isn’t vaccinated so that is good enough for me, as someone said in response to one of Mr Poole’s own blogs) or some other ideology.

Mr Poole also raises the question of personal freedom being of concern.  People do not have to get the vaccine if they don’t want to, but they will undoubtedly pay the price for it.  I would not overplay this hand. The loss of personal freedom is a relatively small one, but the gains in complying are great. It is of the nature of obeying the road rules because they are good for us all, not of sending people to death camps.

Put it another way.  The price of not being vaccinated is an annual or more frequent dose of the virus, possibility hospitalisation, ventilation and death, and infecting others on a regular basis. Really, honestly, why would you go through that when you could join the rest of us? Do you want to be one of those people, so common in the media, that blats out their epitaph in their last few breaths: “I wish now I had got the vaccine”?

I expect teachers to take leadership roles in this.  Teachers are (or at least used to be) trained to think, research and analyse data. If they have concerns about getting the virus, they need to do a serious exercise of adducing the data and understanding it.  If they do that, they – I guarantee – will come out in favour of the notion that vaccination of everyone that can be vaccinated – more than 99% of the over-12s – is the best option for Aotearoa and the world.

As for Mr Poole, Ms Goudie, Mr Tamaki, Mr Te Kahika and all the other ‘leaders’ who remain intransigently opposed to vaccination, you might be delighted that your opposition is expanding your fame.  But you must know that you are on the wrong side of history here. You should all know better.


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.

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