An expert in bioethics says unilaterally introducing vaccine mandates and certificates without widespread discussion with the New Zealand public runs the risk of dividing the 'team of five million'.
Angela Ballantyne, an associate professor in bioethics at Otago University, told Q+A that “the most important part of our response to Covid, and one of the reasons that its been so successful in New Zealand, has been the focus on collective interests, unity, kotahitanga, and really working as one.
"And so I think a major risk with the vaccine certificates or passports is that they are divisive.”
She says the latest approach from the Government is a real departure from the last 18 months, where the key message has been that the problem is the virus, not people.
The latest comments from the Prime Minister are a marked shift in tone.
On Friday, Jacinda Ardern told New Zealanders “if you’ve done the right thing to keep yourself and others safe, to look after one another you should feel safe, you should be protected from others who haven’t made that choice".
Ballantyne says there are many reasons why people have yet to be vaccinated, and a variety of communities who have particular challenges to overcome.
“Its just really problematic, I think, if we simplify the narrative and say: ‘it's just a choice and people have just chosen not to help their community.’”
“We, at all costs, want to avoid stigmatising certain sector of New Zealand, pushing them further to the margins and labelling them as a threat to the rest of us.”
She argues there needs to more clarity about what the purpose of the mandates and certificates are, so we can monitor how effective they are.
“It's not clear to me whether this is primarily designed to be a carrot that gets us up to 90 per cent or a stick after we get to 90 per cent to encourage those who remain unvaccinated to get vaccinated.”
She wants to see much greater transparency around why vaccine mandates and certificates are being introduced, and what they are supposed to achieve, to allow New Zealanders to have informed conversations about the potential restrictions on their lives.
“Previously the Prime Minister’s done a great job, when coercive measure are necessary, of explaining that there are a balance of interests, there are different considerations and they certain approaches are necessary ... ensuring the public understands and can see a clear justification for why these measures are necessary.”