FactCheck Social Media

NZ activist’s COVID claims fall apart under scrutiny

2021-03-26 15:22:39

The Statement

A Facebook post by New Zealand activist Billy Te Kahika makes several claims about COVID-19 government responses to the pandemic in that country.

The post details a protest organised by Te Kahika outside an event held to discuss COVID-19 communications attended by the NZ Ministry of Health Director-General and Chief Executive, Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photos and a video show Te Kahika and his supporters protesting outside the venue where Bloomfield spoke at the February event.

Among the claims in his post, Te Kahika says “we know the virus has a 99.7% survival rate and yet he (Bloomfield), Arden (sic) and his Ministry have decimated our economy and democratic and free society,” and that “we know the ‘vaccine’ by definition of the term is not one”.

Te Kahika also asks “what was the procurement process followed by ARDEN and his Ministry for the acquisition from Bill Gates’ companies of these non vaccines?”

At the time of publication, the post had been shared more than 300 times and received more than 1600 reactions and 290 comments.

A Facebook post
 A post by activist Billy Te Kahika makes several claims about COVID-19 pandemic in New Zealand. 

The Analysis

Billy Te Kahika Junior, a musician, activist and politician, has been regularly covered in New Zealand’s media (examples here, here and here) for spreading conspiracy theories and his Facebook post also makes several false statements about COVID-19.

Te Kahika’s now-defunct New Zealand Public Party joined with another small party, Advance New Zealand to stand in the 2020 election. Te Kahika’s Advance NZ Party received one per cent of the vote in NZ’s 2020 election, and he later announced that he was quitting politics.

Te Kahika claims that “the virus has a 99.7% survival rate,” or only .3% of its victims die from it is not correct.

Death rates vary widely between countries but Johns Hopkins University of Medicine’s mortality analysis placed the death rate of observed COVID-19 cases at 1.8 per cent in the United States and 2.9 per cent in the United Kingdom as of March 18. NZ, which has only recorded 26 deaths and praised for its response to the virus, had a death rate of 1.1 per cent. The figures do not allow for undiagnosed cases or uncounted deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has provided a briefing about the difficulty of pinning down the death rates from COVID-19, which has claimed more than 2.7 million lives worldwide since the pandemic began. The precise COVID-19 mortality rate is still uncertain and some experts say it may never be known as the full scope of asymptomatic cases is difficult to measure.

AAP FactCheck has debunked similar claims regarding virus survival rates before (here, here and here) as have other fact-checking organisations  (here, here and here).

Te Kahika also claims that “the ‘vaccine’ by definition of the term is not one”. While the reason for making the claim is not given, the claim is not supported by the facts.

The WHO says vaccines “reduce risks of getting a disease by working with your body’s natural defences to build protection” while the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes a vaccine as “a product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease”.

False claims have circulated online that the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are being called “biological agents,” and have been debunked.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, a member of NZ’s Vaccine Safety Expert Advisory Group and director of the University of Auckland’s Vaccine Datalink and Research Group, spoke to AAP FactCheck in December 2020 about claims the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine “wasn’t a vaccine”.

“It is very much a vaccine in that it is a biological agent used to induce immunity to a disease in those to whom it is administered,” Dr Petousis-Harris said in an email.

The post also claims that New Zealand has received its vaccines from “Bill Gates’ companies”.

New Zealand ordered 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which it began rolling out on February 19. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation details its investment in Pfizer here.

In recent years the foundation has given a multi-million dollar grant to Pfizer for research into pneumonia and also BioNTech to develop HIV and tuberculosis programs.

While Gates has financial interests in several drugmakers including Pfizer and BioNTech, it is not correct to say they are his companies. A list of Pfizer’s major owners can be found here and the tech billionaire is not among the major shareholders. For BioNTech, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation held a 0.43 per cent stake as at December 30, 2020.

NZ PM Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield
 NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield address the media on COVID-19. 

The Verdict

The post’s claim that COVID-19 has a survival rate of 99.7 per cent is incorrect. Estimates of death rates vary, however the overall mortality rate is likely to be above 0.3 per cent, several analyses show.

The coronavirus vaccines being rolled out worldwide are vaccines by several health organisations’ definition of the word.

Bill Gates and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have invested in several companies involved in vaccine production but it is incorrect to describe either Pfizer and BioNTech as controlled by him due to the small size of those investments.

False – Content that has no basis in fact.

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