Saturday, 15 May 2021

Covid 19 coronavirus: Guards for immunisation centres, vaccine shipments amid security concerns

Security has become a focus amid emerging potential threats to the supply of vaccines and those places set up as mass immunisation centres.

Guards have been assigned to an Auckland immunisation centre today ahead of a protest by those pushing claims the vaccine is dangerous.

And the Ministry of Health has confirmed incidents overseas that have seen targeted damage and thefts of Covid-19 vaccines led it to assign guards to protect movement of the medicine.

The move follows advice from NZ Security Intelligence Service director-general Rebecca Kitteridge that Covid-19 had led to an increase in “grievances driven by Covid-19” internationally and in New Zealand.

Overseas, immunisation efforts have faced disruption with protests outside immunisation centres and thefts of vaccines.

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A NZ Herald investigation found the past year had brought a convergence between a broad range of activist groups from white supremacists to environmental protesters, seemingly unified by a growth in Covid-19 conspiracy theories.

As the Government prepares to step up its campaign to combat disinformation and misinformation, anti-vaccination groups are also preparing to increase their efforts.

The Voices of Freedom group, which distributes misleading and untrue information about Covid-19 and vaccines, has forecast an action campaign beginning next week.

In an email to supporters on Thursday, it sent a slick package of conspiracy-led propaganda material, telling people “we all want our country, our lives, and our freedoms back to the way they were before 2020 happened”.

Other groups and individuals are planning real-world actions of the sort that has led to security guards being employed to help protect immunisation centres. Auckland health authorities have taken precautions ahead of one such protest planned for today.

A Northern Regional Health Coordination Centre spokeswoman said it was aware of a protest planned for today. As part of its wider precautions, it had security at that site and others across the city.

“We are working with agencies like the police to ensure we are informed about any risks which may be associated with this activity.”

The spokeswoman said the immunisation centres were “part of the ramp-up of the Government’s scheduled rollout” and all venues had security for the “health and safety of our patients, their whānau and support people”, and staff working there.

A spokeswoman for police said it was aware of planned protest action, recognised the right of people to lawful protest and was focused on “ensuring safety”.

“Police as an organisation is well-practised in dealing with these events, and our staff will work to ensure an effective response is provided based on the circumstances at the time.”

The spokesman said it was common for police to contact organisers ahead of time to find out information about the planned event and to make sure planned protests were “carried out in a peaceful manner”.

Increasing numbers of vaccines were being shipped about the country as the nationwide immunisation programme gained speed.

While there were not any examples yet of vaccines being targeted unlawfully in New Zealand, there had been a number of cases overseas.

A Ministry spokesman said “vaccine security is a priority” and “even more critical with the high-profile nature of the Covid-19 vaccine and immunisation programme”.

The spokesman said “all steps possible” were being taken to avoid disruption of supply and to keep staff safe.

“As such, security staff are involved in some aspects of the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines in New Zealand.”

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