Auckland local board candidate claims Covid-19 vaccine ‘experimental’

A woman running in Auckland’s local elections has claimed the Covid-19 vaccine is “an experimental shot”.

Emma Ryburn-Phengsavath​ is vying for a spot on the Kaipātiki Local Board, which services Glenfield, Beach Haven, Northcote and Birkenhead on the North Shore.

In her candidate statement on the Auckland Council website, Ryburn-Phengsavath said she was an independent, freethinking and alternative voice.

Ryburn-Phengsavath previously shared her disagreement with Covid-19 vaccine mandates on social media, including material from anti-vax group Voices For Freedom, which compared the mandates to discrimination.

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She also referred to the vaccine as “an experimental shot” in a Facebook post about healthcare workers who lost their jobs due to not being vaccinated.

The Covid-19 vaccine is not experimental. According to the Ministry of Health, worldwide concern regarding the virus resulted in large numbers of volunteers allowing for simultaneous clinical trials. This is why the vaccine’s effectiveness was so quickly determined.

“The vaccines have been developed very quickly but without taking any shortcuts in the necessary processes or compromising safety,” the ministry said.

Stuff understands Ryburn-Phengsavath is friends with Voices For Freedom founder Claire Deeks​. Both were part of a group of parents and children who visited the Auckland War Memorial Museum on April 5 in celebration of vaccine pass mandates being removed.

Upon seeing the group gathering outside, the museum temporarily closed to “ensure the safety and security of our people and collections”.

The Covid-19 vaccine’s effectiveness was determined quickly due to worldwide concern over the virus and simultaneous clinical trials. (File photo)

Asked about whether she was a member of Voices For Freedom, which has asked its supporters to make New Zealand “ungovernable” by running in the local elections without disclosing affiliation to the group, Ryburn-Phengsavath declined to comment.

“I have no public relations experience, limited media experience with limited support for my campaign (basically just family and a couple of close friends). As such, I won’t be replying to any of your questions.”

She added she had never been involved in politics before.

“I am also a busy mother with two school-aged children, a job I enjoy very much, and like a lot of people in Aotearoa at the moment my family is living in tough economic times.”

According to her LinkedIn profile, Ryburn-Phengsavath has worked part-time as a coordinator for the On Track Network at the Liggins Institute since June.

The Liggins Institute is a medical research leg of the University of Auckland, with the aim of improving human health, while the On Track Network runs a national maternal and perinatal clinical trial network.

Researchers from Liggins and the university have endorsed the Covid-19 vaccine as safe for pregnant people and “strongly” recommend it.

Stuff asked the university if it was concerned about an employee sharing vaccine misinformation online and whether it might affect the Liggins Institute’s reputation.

A spokesperson said there were many viewpoints held by members of the university community and Ryburn-Phengsavath’s vaccine claim was made in a “private capacity”.

“The university is clear that staff have the right of freedom of speech and opinion and would not comment on individual viewpoints.”

Ryburn-Phengsavath is the founder of Mother’s Milk NZ, a charity which facilitates breast milk donations.

Donors are asked not to donate breast milk expressed within 30 days of receiving a Covid-19 vaccine and recipients may request “unvaccinated milk”.

“This is to keep our recipient baby safe and to reduce any liability should a particular batch be contaminated,” the Mother’s Milk website read.

“If there is a bad batch of vaccine we will contact you if your baby received this milk. We do not anticipate that this will happen, this is a precautionary measure we hope we will never need to use.”

Ryburn-Phengsavath said in her candidate statement that if elected she would focus on child wellbeing, community mental health, the healthcare system, housing intensification, maintaining local bush, household security, multicultural diversity and “overzealous” camera surveillance.