An unrepentant Hannah Tamaki, who "escaped" Auckland with her husband on the eve of the latest Covid lockdown, has attacked her critics and declared she will not be getting the vaccine.
The Destiny church leader and aspiring politician has this morning lashed back at critics who have lambasted the couple's decision to leave their home with just hours to spare before the city's borders were closed to curb the spread of the latest community outbreak in South Auckland.
It's a stance that's troubled a leading vaccinologist who says not only is the church leader's stance ill-conceived but could result in a lot of damage.
Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins today said vaccination wasn't compulsory and people were free to choose.
He personally would be getting vaccinated, trusting the science and need to do so.
The Tamakis sparked outrage when it was revealed they hurriedly left Auckland late Saturday night for a speaking tour of their churches across New Zealand.
They addressed a congregation in Rotorua Sunday morning before heading to the South Island. They are due to speak in Invercargill this weekend and were spotted in Te Anau on Tuesday.
Yesterday Hipkins called their actions "completely irresponsible".
But in a Facebook post this morning the Vision NZ leader said they had nothing to apologise for.
"We are not the ones to say sorry. The media need to apologise to our people, calling them poor and less intelligent and need to have the Covid vaccine.
"Everything in life is a choice. Make sure you choose for yourself, not be talked into something you are not happy to do.
"I'm not taking the vaccine. That's my choice."
But vaccine safety expert advisory group member Helen Petousis-Harris said the pronouncement was disappointing and most unhelpful.
"It is extremely harmful.
"It's also ill-conceived and can result in a lot of damage.
"These people are highly respected in their community and they should be basing their communications on good trustworthy information, not misinformation."
Petousis-Harris said church leaders in the past had been fabulous voices for public health and helping to keep their congregations safe.
She advised those in the congregations to listen and seek advice from family doctors about the Covid vaccine.
Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said these people were leaders in their community and with leadership came real responsibility.
While vaccination was voluntary, advising others the fact that you weren't having it would clearly influence people.
"Your point is not to remind people it's a personal choice, the point is to make a stand that you've decided not to take a vaccine and when you're in leadership position that's clearly going to have an influence on people."
Baker said it was an unfortunate position to take given the nature of this virus.
"We know what the impact of Covid-19 would be if there was widespread infection in South Auckland for instance, where they're based. Māori and Pacific leaders are saying the opposite. They're urging their communities to vaccinate and, in fact, not only that but they are encouraging it to be prioritised highly."
Hipkins said while people were within their rights not to get the Covid-19 vaccination, the Government would be making available "science-based, factual" information head of this year's mass immunisation drive.
"Vaccination will not be compulsory. People can exercise their right not to have the vaccine," said the minister.
"If they choose to do that, that's a decision for them and their families.
"Our goal as a Government will be to provide good science-based, factual information about vaccines, about their safety, about their effectiveness, so people can make a decision about whether they have a vaccine or not.
"I will be having a vaccine as soon as I am in a position to be able to do that," he said.
In an earlier post Tamaki said racism was "alive and obvious in New Zealand".
She said of the thousands who left Auckland before Sunday's 6am curfew, the media were choosing to focus on her household.
"Out of 9000 cars that left Auckland the only [one] mentioned is the one the media love to invoke the public to hate. Talked to a lawyer that left also. Hello. Not lawbreakers and Covid free. Too much hate in this nation of god-loving people."
Destiny Church has been approached for comment.