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Saturday, July 13, 2024
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The perils of pontificating on ‘information’

Yesterday I received a call from a Times-Age reader complaining about inaccuracies in my Saturday opinion piece titled ‘The real perils of policing ‘information’.

Specifically, he took issue with the claim that our government seemed to have made “a decision to not be straight up with the public about [the relative risk of covd-19 to different demographics] … and those who sought to share such information were decried as ‘conspiracy theorists’ or worse.”

Surely this can hardly be the case, my caller said, when in March 2020, not only were there postings on the Ministry of Health’s website discussing the emerging information about the risk faced by different groups, but then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also explicitly referenced the danger faced by the elderly and those with comorbidities in a speech that same month.

Furthermore, he pointed out, the way in which the vaccination campaign was run clearly identified and prioritised different risk groups.

Doesn’t a journalist have a duty to ensure what they publish is accurate, he asked – especially when he’s criticising the validity of others’ information?

After listening to his critique and re-reading my opinion, I have to agree my caller was absolutely correct – this section was just plain wrong, for which I apologise unreservedly.

I can only put the error down to a tight deadline – and perhaps a spot of the amnesia that appears to have afflicted many of us over the past few years.

That’s no excuse, though, and a pretty poor reason too – certainly not the gold standard of accurate reportage we aspire to. Not to mention a karmic irony in the context of a column pontificating about accurate information.

In hindsight, the point I had intended – but utterly failed – to include involved my ongoing misgivings about the relative risk of the virus and the way in which the relative risk and reward of taking the Pfizer vaccine was conveyed.

The vaccination campaign was initially predicated on the idea that being vaccinated would stop the recipient from catching and transmitting the virus, as well as provide protection against hospitalisation and death. As such, even those who were – on the face of it – at little risk from the virus were encouraged to get “the jab” as a way of taking care of more vulnerable members of our community.

It was a compelling pitch, and the majority of eligible New Zealanders answered the call.

What I find more than a little disquieting, however, is that as early as July 2021 the Ministry of Health had posted small household studies from its counterpart in the UK that suggested vaccination actually had a very small to negligible impact on whether you caught and/or spread covid-19.

Given the reportedly rare – but still real – risk of serious adverse reactions [especially myocarditis in young men], I strongly believe the vaccine’s changing efficacy profile, along with surfacing safety signals, should have been explicitly communicated to the general public as the picture became clearer.

Not so long ago that would’ve been an uncontroversial position, but these days, not so much. Isn’t a dispassionate discussion on this aspect of our pandemic response long overdue?

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