Posts mislead on New Zealand Covid vaccine exemptions

Misleading social media posts have surfaced worldwide alleging "11,000 politicians and elites" in New Zealand were granted exemptions from Covid-19 vaccination, suggesting the jabs are unsafe despite global safety data showing otherwise. These posts misrepresent temporary exemptions given to essential healthcare service workers or people who could not immediately be vaccinated, such as those who were sick with Covid-19.

The claim was shared by an Australia-based Facebook user here on December 13, 2023.

It shows a photo of former New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who steered the country through the Covid-19 pandemic, above what appears to be an article titled: "11,000 politicians and elites received an exemption for the Covid vaccination: 'This is shocking'."

Separate text above Ardern's photo reads: "WEF Dictator Jacinda Ardern did not take the 'vaccine' that killed her own Citizens. Instead, she fled the Country…and sits on the Board of the Death Star…BlackRock…the Financial Arm of the World Economic Forum.

"Arrest this Monster for Genocide."

Safety data gathered from global inoculation programmes show serious side effects from Covid-19 vaccines are rare, and AFP has repeatedly debunked misinformation portraying the jabs as dangerous.

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, captured on January 1, 2024

Similar posts were also shared by Facebook users elsewhere in Australia, as well as New Zealand, the United States and Canada.

These posts provide more detail about the headline, indicating it has been translated from a German-language article on Uncut News, a website that has previously shared misinformation debunked by AFP.

The article references a conversation from an online show published on October 25, 2023.

An excerpt is embedded in the article and at the 1:45 mark, the host says: "Also, the thing that's come out from New Zealand was that freedom of information that showed they had 11,000 exemptions, most of them the politicians and the elite, really, that's staggering."

While more than 11,000 Covid vaccine exemptions were granted by New Zealand authorities, these were temporary exemptions primarily given to essential healthcare service workers.

Misrepresented policy

A keyword search on Google led to Health New Zealand’s response to a freedom of information request for details of Covid-19 vaccination exemptions (archived link).

The response from health agency official Matt Hannant reads: "From 13 November 2021 to 26 September 2022, a total of 478 applications for Significant Service Disruption exemption (SSD) were received. 103 applications were granted, covering approximately 11,005 workers."

SSD exemptions covered "essential healthcare service workers," Hannant told AFP on December 18.

They were put in place so "essential health services could continue while one or more health care workers completed the mandated Covid-19 vaccine course or could be vaccinated with an alternative Covid-19 vaccine."

It was not possible to provide the exact number of workers who were granted exemptions since applications could be made for a single worker or a large group or workers, Hannant said.

New Zealand required Covid-19 vaccinations for people working in sectors such as health, law enforcement, education and defence, with those who refuse the jab facing the sack.

The country's health agency, however, noted there were situations where a vaccine could not be administered, which would require an exemption (archived link).

These included being sick with Covid-19 at the scheduled time of vaccination or a serious adverse event to a previous dose.

Another exemption called the Temporary Medical Exemption (TME) was "available to anyone aged over 18 who met the clinical criteria," Hannant said.

"From 15 November 2021 to 26 September 2022, a total of 6410 individual TMEs were granted."

Of these, over 5,600 were granted for those who could not be vaccinated because they were sick with Covid-19.

"All exemptions were temporary, with SSDEs ranging in length of time from 7 days to 8 weeks, and TME exemptions ranging from 3 to 6 months."

Exemptions "were no longer valid" from September 27, 2022, after New Zealand ceased its vaccination mandates, Hannant added.

Ardern vaccinated

Moreover, former leader Jacinda Ardern was vaccinated against Covid-19, contrary to claims in some of the posts.

A video of the then prime minister getting her first jab was published by AFP on YouTube on June 18, 2021 (archived link).

She received the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at the Manurewa Vaccination Centre in New Zealand's largest city Auckland, AFP reported.

Local media also published videos showing her getting her second dose in July that year and a booster jab the following January (archived links here and here).

There is also no evidence to support the misleading posts' claim that Ardern sits on the board of asset management firm BlackRock.

Her official Facebook page states she is a special envoy for Christchurch Call to Action and an Earthshot Prize trustee (archived links here, here and here).

Ardern does not appear on the board of directors page of BlackRock's website (archived link).

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