People against Covid-19 vaccines and vaccination mandates, including a board member of the Southern District Health Board, are using a leaked email address to abuse the Countdown supermarket.
The email was set up to seek staff comment on a proposal to require all grocer employees to be vaccinated in mid-January.
An angry message to the supermarket was from Ilka Beekhuis, a member of the board of directors of Southern DHB, who made it clear in her email to Countdown, and obtained by RNZ, that she thought vaccine mandates should not exist.
“I am writing, as a publicly elected official of the Southern DHB, to say that it is abominable that you impose a vaccination mandate on your staff. It is completely amoral, unethical and medically unnecessary,” she wrote.
Beekhuis said the decision to get vaccinated should be left between a person and their doctor.
“As an employer, you have ZERO [sic] right to interfere with someone’s personal medical decisions.
“These were the same people who were essential workers during the lockdown, and now he is treating them with the utmost disrespect.”
Despite deliberately using her job title in the email, Ilka Beekhuis told RNZ that she thought she “made it clear” that she was speaking in a personal capacity.
“It was my mistake,” he said. “I should have written that that was just my opinion and not that of the DHB.”
She confirmed that she disagreed with the vaccine injunctions, calling them coercive, before hanging up.
RNZ called her to ask if Beekhuis could explain why she brought up her DHB role, but would only do so via email, saying, “I don’t like answering over the phone.”
DHB’s board chairman Pete Hodgson says Ilka Beekhuis apologized on Monday and assured him that he would no longer link his personal views to those of DHB.
Beekhuis responded to emailed questions from RNZ on Wednesday, including why he mentioned he was a member of the board.
He said that in his “official capacity” his “voice carries more weight.”
“I represent an opinion that would otherwise be unheard of.”
He said he supported the option to get vaccinated but opposed any mandate, saying it created division and encouraged harassment and intimidation.
“There are other ways of managing Covid-19 infections in workplaces that are socially responsible,” Beekhuis said.
In a statement, Countdown said it was considering a vaccine mandate for all personnel as an additional Covid-19 health and safety measure.
However, he said there had been a “large” number of unsupportive – “and often abusive” – emails from members of the public after the comment email address was shared outside of staff.
Countdown did not plan to make any decisions until its staff responded.
Retail New Zealand CEO Greg Harford said it was inappropriate for the public to intervene in conversations between a private company and its staff.
He said that “companies must conduct a risk assessment on whether they need to require vaccines to keep their teams and customers safe.”
“There will be different solutions in different businesses: some may require more PPE than others, some may require vaccination. But ultimately, it is a decision for each business they have to work on.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has said that people expect the health sector to take the lead on health matters and that not getting vaccinated meant risking getting sick and passing the virus on to loved ones.