Anti-vaxxers are trying to “bribe or blackmail” doctors into giving medical exemptions from COVID-19 vaccines, with one Clive Palmer-backed vaccine sceptic group telling its massive following to claim they have “acute anxiety” over the jab.
The group’s followers say they’ve been ejected from medical clinics after failing to get such exemptions, but alarms have been raised over doctors being abused by those refusing to get a vaccine.
“There is no such exemption. There won’t be an exemption for fear of needles,” said Dr Karen Price, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
“Lots of people are trying to find a loophole … I’ve had a few scared GPs who’ve been intimidated by tactics patients have used.”
False vaccine claims slammed by doctors
The latest debunked claims were shared by prominent anti-lockdown group Reignite Democracy Australia, which has tens of thousands of social media followers.
The group has been prominent in anti-lockdown and vaccine sceptic protests across the country.
Its leader, Monica Smit, recently spent three weeks in jail in Melbourne after being charged with incitement and breaching directions of the the chief health officer, following accusations she encouraged people to attend anti-lockdown protests.
The group has encouraged followers to seek exemptions to vaccine mandates, and runs a database promoting businesses that claim to not enforce mask or QR check-ins.
It also this week announced a partnership to “work closely” with Mr Palmer’s United Australia Party and share “lobbying capabilities”.
“We welcome Reignite Democracy Australia and their thousands of members,’’ Mr Palmer said.
On Tuesday, a day after the UAP partnership was announced, Ms Smit told followers to ask doctors for a vaccine exemption by claiming “acute anxiety” over “the threat of a mandatory medical procedure”.
She claimed she had “got advice from a doctor who has given over 300 exemptions already.”
However, medical experts told The New Daily this was incorrect and no such exemption existed.
Dr Price and Dr Chris Moy, vice president of the Australian Medical Association, shot down the claim of a vaccine exemption on grounds of “anxiety”.
“Major anxiety is a clinical diagnosis. It’s not just about being anxious about something. It’s not enough to just walk in and say you’re anxious, it’s a DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] diagnosis,” Dr Moy told TND.
A practising GP, he said he was aware of patients trying to bribe doctors for vaccine exemptions.
Dr Price said GPs were seeing small numbers of people looking for ways to skirt vaccine mandates in certain workplaces or to access public spaces.
However, she said the number of legitimate medical exemptions stopping someone from getting a vaccine was “vanishingly rare”.
“We’re expecting people to come up with this kind of stuff, as a way to circumvent the process,” she told TND.
“It’s a tricky one. We believe a lot of people have probably been fed misinformation … but making a fraudulent claim of a medical condition is pretty awful, when there’s people with legitimate conditions.”
Dr Price also slammed reports of some patients intimidating or assaulting doctors over vaccine issues, which she called “unconscionable”.
TND contacted Mr Palmer and UAP federal MP Craig Kelly for comment on Reignite Democracy’s claims.
Neither responded by publication time.
Government advice rebukes theory
Ms Smit told her followers to seek a “temporary exemption”.
But advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, released just last month, stresses “very few situations” in which a person would not be able to get a vaccine.
“Medical exemption is expected to be rarely required,” ATAGI said.
“COVID-19 vaccines have been demonstrated to be safety and effective and as such are recommended for all Australians from 12 years of age.”
In a statement, the federal Department of Health told TND medical exemptions to vaccination “are rare” and “very small” – just 0.005 per cent of all vaccinations in Australia.
ATAGI’s advice only notes “acute major medical conditions”.
For mRNA vaccines, that only includes inflammatory cardiac illness or acute decompensated heart failure.
The only other advice ATAGI makes for temporary deferral are for those recovering from acute COVID illness, or after a serious adverse event attributed to a previous dose of COVID vaccine.
Anxiety is not listed on ATAGI’s guidance.
Indeed, many of Reignite Democracy’s social media followers say they tried Ms Smit’s recommendation with no luck.
“It didn’t work for me today unfortunately,” wrote one man.
“Unfortunately they said no, regardless of how anxious you are … she said unfortunately everyone is coming in saying they have anxiety,” a woman commented.
“My doc told me not to bother coming back,” wrote another woman.
One man commented: “I read through the document and severe anxiety is not an option for getting an exemption.”
Reignite Democracy has about 44,000 followers on Telegram and claims to have more than 100,000 subscribers.
Dr Moy warned medical professionals against wrongly providing exemptions to patients.
“I’m hearing about pressure from individuals trying to bribe or blackmail their GPs to do that. Doctors need to be above this,” he said.
“They need to understand what’s at stake here. The consequences of inappropriately doing this could risk not only the ethics but issues with registration and legality. The book could be thrown at them, from a legal sense.”
Dr Price encouraged Australians to focus on the positive stories of skyrocketing COVID vaccination rates – 83.2 per cent of the over-16 population with one dose, 64.4 per cent with two – instead of the “noisy” minority.
“There will be genuinely people who need the vaccine explained to them, perhaps anxious over the legal concerns regarding vaccination for workplaces, but it’s like objecting to drink-driving rules,” she said.
“What you do has an effect on others. These people are putting others at risk.”