Anti-vaccine campaigners have been turning up to school board meetings, handing out flyers outside schools and targeting principals and office staff with emails about the alleged dangers of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Counties Manukau District Health Board confirmed it was aware of South Auckland schools being targeted by anti-vaccine campaigners recently while the Ministry of Education said it was aware of a small number of schools around the country that had also been affected.
A Ministry of Education bulletin sent to school leaders this month said the organisation was aware some schools were being approached by individuals opposed to the Covid 19 vaccination plan who, in some cases, asked to attend board meetings.
A group of anti-vaccine protesters were also caught gathering outside Cullinane College in Whanganui today, distributing vaccine misinformation to students.
The protesters were members of a group called Voices for Freedom.
Ministry advice to South Auckland schools was that board of trustees meetings were public and anyone was able to attend but it was up to the board to grant attendees speaking rights. The board may ask the person to put their concerns in writing.
Schools needed to follow public health advice to fulfill their health and safety requirements, the bulletin said.
Papatoetoe High School principal and Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand president Vaughan Couillault said he was aware of one instance at his school where anti-vaccine campaigners were handing out pamphlets outside the school gates.
They had gone by the time he got there to speak to them but there would have been little he could do given they were on public property, he said.
He said colleagues in the area had experienced similar.
In Whanganui today one of the protesters outside Cullinane College said that all they were doing was providing information as part of a peaceful protest, and that the reception had been positive.
"We're just offering them some information. I hope they take them home to mum and dad, that's important," the protester said.
Cullinane College principal Justin Harper said he was confident his students could make up their own minds.
"It's been a peaceful protest, and I'm very much in favour of peaceful protest," Harper said.
"I think Cullinane students are intelligent, articulate and worldly, and they'll be able to make well-informed decisions should they need to."
A flyer protesters were passing to students suggested that the vaccine was nothing more than an experiment, stating that side effects of the vaccine included cancer, stroke and brain damage.
According to the Ministry of Health, side effects of the Pfizer vaccine are minimal and include only minor issues such as pain or swelling near the injection site, headaches and fatigue.
Of the 1.2 million doses so far administered in New Zealand, only 6000 people have reported any side effects - equal to just 0.5 per cent.
Papatoetoe High School and other schools had also received emails addressed to the principals and the school office sharing similar views, he said.
One such email was sent to most secondary schools in Auckland "and maybe further afield" by "GPAC Legal", according to a Covid update bulletin sent out by the Ministry of Education on Monday.
Couillault said, because he had spoken out and said it seemed sensible to vaccinate teenagers at school if it was extended to younger age groups, he had even had mail couriered to him from New York about the supposed dangers.
He said he based his decisions and advice around guidance from the ministries of health and education but said there was precedent for school vaccinations in facilitating enrolment for voting as well as measles, TB and HPV immunisations.
The Ministry of Education said it had been providing regular advice on misinformation in its bulletins since March last year.
"In our June 8th school bulletin we again took the opportunity to encourage the education community to continue referring to the trusted sources for verified facts and advice about Covid-19 and about vaccine safety and how it protects us," deputy secretary of sector enablement and support Helen Hurst said.
Those sources were Unite Against Covid-19, Ministry of Health websites and their social media channels, she said.
"While individuals may choose not to be vaccinated, spreading misinformation about Covid-19 is against the advice of the director-general of health, and risks public safety and wellbeing."
She reminded schools and their communities that if they saw something misleading they should report it to Cert NZ by emailing email@example.com or the social media platform it was on.