She’s an anti-vaccination, anti-fluoride campaigner who believes measles is a hoax and polio can be cured with vitamin C. Meet Siggi Henry, one of the most powerful people in our fourth largest city. Angela Cuming reports.
First published 13 July 2017.
When Hamilton councillor Siggi Henry wore a tinfoil hat to meet associate health minister Peter Dunne lots of people had a bit of a giggle. She was wearing the tinfoil hat – literally tinfoil – because she had taken umbrage with the minister calling her and her fellow fluoride-deniers ”tinfoil-hat wearing… UFO-abducted pseudo scientists”.
It was a classic “let’s all laugh at Hamilton” moment. An elected councillor in New Zealand’s fourth-largest, and fastest-growing, city was a fluoride-denier, and an anti-vaxxer to boot.
But it wasn’t funny to me, or all those who had crossed paths with Henry over the years in Hamilton.
She has always been known as a vocal opponent to fluoridation of water and in 2013 joined other fluoride-deniers in successfully convincing Hamilton City Council to remove it from the town’s water supply (it was later voted back in).
I became aware of her views during my time as a journalist at the Waikato Times from 2011 to 2014. In 2016, when Henry announced she was running for council, I was confident voters would see sense and not vote for someone with such terrible views.
Turns out I was wrong. But, hey, that’s democracy for you.
I grimaced but got over it when, two weeks after she was elected, Henry claimed health experts and “smarty pants” scientists had brainwashed the public over fluoride and urged mayor Andrew King to do away with fluoride in the city’s drinking water.
Then there was the time Cr Henry questioned why council staff were being offered free flu jabs, arguing it was a waste of money.
Or when she said overweight people are a health hazard because they could fall on you.
But then it got personal for me.
Henry told me babies don’t die from whooping cough.
She had posted on one of her two Facebook accounts (one’s Siggi Henry the private citizen and the other is Siggi Henry the councillor) something about the controversial anti-vaccine movie Vaxxed. She’d gone to see it in Hamilton and was full of praise.
As a mother to three little boys, including premature identical twins who spent the first two weeks of their lives in NICU, I’m 100 percent in favour of vaccinations. I listen to the science, to the healthcare professionals, to my conscience, and I vaccinate myself and my kids.
So I called Henry out on her Facebook post, asked her if she’d ever seen a baby infected with whooping cough.
”I get it, it’s not nice to watch a little one suffering, but it is not life threatening,” she wrote.
She added: “Interestingly a couple of years ago when we had a whooping cough outbreak it was amongst the vaccinated children. My friend has two little ones who aren’t vaccinated and they never got it (whooping cough) because she loaded them up with vitamins.”
Still laughing at the tinfoil hat?
I figured it couldn’t get any worse than denying whooping cough kills (it can and does by the way, just ask the parents of little Riley Hughes) so out of curiosity I started to look at some of Henry’s other Facebook posts.
And then I got really, really mad.
Here’s a recent selection of the World According to Siggi
“Good on the Germans for finding out there is no measles virus! Hope they are checking out the polio virus too, because that might not exist either.”
“We have to stop the polio vaccine!!!”
“What is wrong with getting measles??? Seems like the vaccine is much worse.”
”It today’s world you cannot trust the medical fraternity because they are run by the pharmaceutical industry. Follow the money trail and you get the answers.”
”Today’s media is bought out by big pharma”.
And it gets worse.
Cr Henry has made numerous eye-popping posts to her Facebook accounts that at the very best could be categorised as anti-science, at worst the stuff of outlandish conspiracy theories. The claims made by Henry below were published both before and after she was elected to Hamilton City Council.
Major food corporations use tissue from “aborted babies” to manufacture flavour additives in processed foods.
Vitamin K shots given to babies linked to early childhood leukemia. Vaccinating your dogs can cause the dogs to get autoimmune diseases. There’s ”strong link” between fluoridated water and ADHD. Adults can cure their polio in just three days by taking vitamin C. A meme that featured a young child and the words “I think the decline of child spanking and the rise of disrespectful little sh*ts are totally related.”
“Big Pharma” was “invented by the Rockefellers”.
Tampons have carcinogens in them. Mammograms ”plant seeds of radiation-induced cancer”.
You get the picture.
As a mother it makes me feel genuinely sick to my stomach that a person who says measles is a hoax is helping to run the city in which I am raising my children. As a journalist I have a deep curiosity about just how someone with such strident and downright dangerous views was able to be elected in the first place. And as a proud resident of Hamilton I want better for, and from, my local council.
German-born Henry, 57, was elected in October 2016 with 5280 votes. It was her first go at running for council. She only scraped into the last spot because Andrew King won the mayoral chains by six votes – six – and thus he didn’t need to take up his post as a councillor. Henry was next on the list.
It’s hard to know if people understood quite who they were voting for. Many may have had no idea about her views. The anti-fluoride and anti-vaxxer positions did not figure prominently in her campaign; indeed they were rarely if ever mentioned publicly.
Henry presented herself while campaigning as an “environmental advocate”. The Waikato Times referred to her as an “environmentalist” and in the glossy pamphlet left in letterboxes she called herself a “health and wellness coach”.
“Henry keen to contribute to city” read one Waikato Times headline. Written by Henry herself, it pitched readers for their votes while making no mention of her stances on things like fluoride or vaccines.
Yes, Cr Henry was fairly elected via a transparent and democratic process and, yes, she is entitled to her own opinions and beliefs.
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But Siggi Henry no longer just an agitator on the sidelines. She now wields influence in Hamilton, is paid a councillor’s salary of more than $70,000 a year and will be charged with voting on very serious matters concerning the city’s growth and development. Then there’s the matter of the Waikato DHB, which to this point has always enjoyed a good working relationship with the council on issues of public health.
So we may well laugh at her tinfoil hat and roll our eyes at what comes out of her mouth at council meetings. But perhaps it might be better to think of the children who this year will suffer agonising and preventable diseases because someone listened to the anti-vaxxer crowd.
And maybe, hopefully, next time council elections swing around, a little more attention will be given to who the candidates really are, and not just what they put in their press releases.
The Spinoff’s science content is made possible thanks to the support of The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, a national institute devoted to scientific research.