GPs call out ‘atrocious’ anti-vaxx ambush

Morgan Liotta

13/07/2021 5:16:01 PM

Anti-vaccination organisers are calling for supporters to attend GP consultations and ‘educate’ doctors on informed consent.

Anti-vaccination protestor.
Victorian general practices are being warned of becoming targets of anti-vaccination campaigners. (Image: AAP)

In a 9 July video to members of extreme anti-vaccination group Reignite Democracy Australia, the organisation’s spokesperson Monica Smit outlined the latest ‘campaign’ to target Victorian general practices.
It involves members making appointments with their local GP armed with a questionnaire on the new COVID vaccines in an effort to convince them of the supposed dangers of the Pfizer and AstsraZeneca COVID vaccines, along with the apparent benefits of ivermectin-based treatment.
‘We’re going to record [the GPs’] name and where they work … the point of this is to open their minds to the possibility that the [vaccine] experiment isn’t safe and that people should have informed consent,’ Ms Smit said.
‘We’re going to be raising a lot of awareness about early treatment because, whether you believe COVID is dangerous or not, is besides the point [sic] … if we can eliminate people’s fear by telling them that there are options for early treatment … it could be a really great way to open people’s minds.’
After being made aware of the video following a News Corp media enquiry, RACGP President Dr Karen Price condemned the plan, describing it as ‘completely unacceptable’.
‘General practice staff are working extremely hard in challenging circumstances − including managing frustrated and abusive patients − to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, as well as take care of their usual appointments. The last thing they need is anti-vaxxers harassing and degrading them at their place of work,’ she told newsGP.
‘If these anti-vaxxers conduct what are essentially fake consultations with a questionnaire to gather information about GPs, including their names and where they work, that is extremely unethical. It is also a waste of a GP’s valuable time when we have so much on our plate.
‘Further, if they engage in disrespectful or unruly behaviour such as filming general practice staff, tearing down COVID-19 information posters or aggressively threatening receptionists – that is not protesting, that is harassment of healthcare workers. There is no place for it.’
Melbourne GP Dr Preeya Alexander is a long-time advocate for combating health misinformation, particularly around vaccination. She told newsGP this sort of activity is ‘extremely damaging’ for general practices.
‘We need to remember that the GPs of Australia are at the forefront of a vaccine rollout that has had multiple significant issues. They are spending their days counselling patients, dealing with vaccine hesitancy and trying really hard to vaccinate Australians,’ she said.
‘I for one am exhausted − and I know I am not alone among my GP colleagues.
‘We are dealing with ever-changing recommendations with no warning or document to concisely outline changes to recommendations within the rollout. Dealing with something like this on top of all that − people literally wasting the precious time of a GP ­− is atrocious.’
Dr Alexander regularly receives ‘hate mail’ and is frustrated that ongoing efforts are needed to raise awareness of medical misinformation. She believes that conversations need to keep happening about the benefits of vaccination in ‘a way that people in the community can easily understand’ to combat vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccination movements.
‘We need more qualified experts talking very simply and reiterating the message about risk/benefit,’ she said.
‘We have a real fight on our hands here when it comes to vaccine hesitancy. We can do better [and] we need to do better at getting people on board, on educating them, on getting excited about vaccination as a way out of this pandemic.’
Despite general practice’s role at the forefront of the pandemic’s public health roadmap and vaccine rollout, Dr Alexander says support for GPs is still lagging.
‘We can all do our bit in the consulting room as GPs but at the end of the day we need the masses to be on board here,’ she said.
‘We have not been assisted at all on that front and we are now feeling the impact of it.’
Should GPs and practice staff be targeted by the Reignite Democracy Australia campaign, Dr Price has some clear advice.
‘If this ridiculous plan eventuates, I encourage all GPs, nurses, receptionists and admin staff to respond firmly but as calmly as possible and request that they leave the premises immediately,’ she said.
‘If they do not comply, call the police right away. If you are featured in a video or have your details put online, please notify the police also.’
Dr Alexander also had advice for GPs finding themselves in this situation.
‘Some of us may terminate the consultation immediately if we suspect we are being targeted,’ she said. ‘It’s important to reiterate that if you feel your safety is in any way threatened, [you should] ask for emergency assistance.
‘[Potentially] being filmed adds an additional complexity here and is a big breach of privacy. These videos are being shared online so it’s important we, as the GP, remain as calm as possible and seek assistance where required.’ 
Amid the challenge of GPs tackling vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccination, Dr Price’s message remains the same.
‘The COVID vaccine rollout is the public health challenge of a lifetime and general practice is the backbone,’ she said.
‘Anti-vaxxers have nothing positive to offer the community − let’s not let them distract or discourage us.’
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Dr Raymond Yeow   15/07/2021 7:19:44 PM

Reversing the perspective -- should GPs view this as a chance to engage with people who are vaccine hesitant to let these persons know the truth about the vaccine benefits overwhelming any minor/ miniscule risks ?