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  • rmacculloch

Were the Covid academic expert commentators under Labour's influence?

Kate McNamara reports in the NZ Herald today that an Official Information Request (OIA) has found that "a specially chosen group of Covid academic commentators were selected for special government briefings earlier in the pandemic because of the likelihood they would be called on by media for comment about government work & announcements".

Now I was a "Covid academic commentator" and wrote and spoke about, in particular, the outrageously slow vaccine roll-out in NZ which cost us billions of bucks in terms of additional time spent under lock-downs. At one stage we were bottom of the OECD in terms of percentage vaccinations! I did radio shows, wrote articles for the likes of the National Business Review and did commentary for major news outlets in the country. Yet there was never a hint of ever being selected for "special government briefings".

Why not? The reason in my opinion is that, along with several other academics in the country, our commentary was not flattering to the government. In particular, what I wrote on this blog (which at one point was picked up by former PM John Key to embarrass Labour about its Pfizer vaccine purchase strategy) was out of line with the government's narrative. One OIA request revealed the following in a government "progress report":

"We worked with Pfizer to co-ordinate the timing of the press release and ensure consistent messaging for Q&As. Key stakeholders – especially those likely to be approached by media for comment – were provided with a 'heads up' prior to the announcements going out. A number of these stakeholders have provided positive public comment as a result".

The point is that I saw my comments as being in the public interest. What could have been more important at the time than speeding up the vaccine roll-out in the face of bureaucratic and political mistakes? My comments related to the failure of government health officials to weigh up the tiny costs of the vaccine purchase against the gigantic economic costs that the snail's pace roll-out was causing the country.

The question is: were some of the prominent Covid commentators making purely objective academic statements based on findings from their own research on the topic of the virus? Or had some of them just been brought under the wing of Labour's Communications machine?



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