Between 21-22 November 2022 in Auckland, the Health Practitioner’s Disciplinary Tribunal heard three charges of professional misconduct laid by the Professional Conduct Committee appointed by the Nursing Council of New Zealand against Ms Sarai Tepou, a registered nurse of Auckland (the nurse).
The charges are that:
- The nurse posted offensive and/or inappropriate comments and/or comments which were derogatory to nurses and/or other health professionals on her personal Facebook page for the purpose of discouraging vaccination against COVID-19;
- The nurse circulated offensive and/or inappropriate material and/or material, on Facebook page(s) which was/were open to the public, which brought, or was likely to bring, nurses and/or other health professionals into disrepute. The comments made by the nurse were made from her personal and/or business Facebook pages, for the purpose of discouraging vaccination against COVID-19;
- On or about April 2021 the nurse participated in a lengthy radio interview in English on a Tokelauan radio station called “PMN Tokelau”, where she communicated offensive and/or inappropriate rhetoric and information and/or misinformation related to the COVID-19 vaccine, and/or rhetoric and information and/or misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine that was likely to bring the nursing profession into disrepute, for the purpose of discouraging vaccination against COVID-19. This radio station was for the Tokelauan community and the interview remains on the PMN Tokelau Facebook page.
The conduct alleged in Charges 1-3 amounts to professional misconduct pursuant to section 100(1)(a) and/or (b) of the Act and that it is conduct that brings discredit to the nursing profession. The full charge can be found in the decision on the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal website.
Ms Tepou (the nurse) is a registered nurse of Auckland of Tokelauan descent. She became a registered nurse in 1991 and later trained as a midwife, which she was practising as at the time of the hearing. The conduct occurred between April-June 2021, during the New Zealand government’s vaccine roll-out.
Charge 1 relates to comments made on Facebook by the nurse in a private group of parents who were intending to refuse to vaccinate their children against COVID-19. The nurse expressed distrust in her colleagues and encouraged group members to stay away from District Health Boards. The nurse referred to herself and others unvaccinated as the ‘golden DNA community.’
Charge 2 involved the circulation of two letter templates in the group which parents could use to send to a school to refuse their children being vaccinated. The letters were also shared on the practitioner’s business Facebook page.
Charge 3 concerned a radio interview given by the nurse on 17 April 2021 on a Tokelauan radio station about the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out. In that interview, the practitioner made various claims about the efficacy, safety and underlying agenda of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, and vaccines generally. The nurse suggested the vaccine would change the makeup of DNA so that recipients would not be 100% human and that it was part of a spiritual war of good vs evil. She claimed that vaccines in general do not have robust safety checks and there is a link between them and autism, that Bill Gates knows the vaccine ingredients and has chosen not vaccinate his children, and that the COVID-19 vaccine destroys natural immunity.
With regards to Charge 1, the Tribunal found that the nurse identified herself as a nurse, heightening her responsibility to act professionally. Her comments encouraged distrust in the profession at a time where public health interventions were pivotal and although they were made in a private group, they were intended to reach an audience that the nurse did not know personally. The charge was established.
Charge 2 was also established on the grounds that the circulation of the letter templates was intended to undermine the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. If the circulation of the letter templates influenced the decision of one or more people not to get vaccinated, this may have had far-reaching effects on the health of the New Zealand public during the pandemic.
Charge 3, relating to the video interview, was also established. This was considered the most serious charge, undermining the efficacy of the vaccine to a large and vulnerable community without any evidence.
The charges separately and cumulatively amounted to professional misconduct.
The Tribunal ordered the nurse be:
- 12-month suspension of registration
- Conditions of registration
- Recommendation of apology to affected co-workers
- Pay 40% of the costs of the Tribunal and PCC investigation, totalling $22,852.83.
The Tribunal directed publication of the decision and a summary.