The parents of Rory Nairn say their son was failed by health authorities.
In findings released on Tuesday, Coroner Sue Johnson ruled the 26-year-old Dunedin plumber died in November 2021 as a result of myocarditis caused by the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.
The inquest heard the pharmacist who vaccinated him was not aware myocarditis could be fatal and never warned him about the condition.
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His parents, Brett and Chris Nairn, have spoken out for the first time about what happened to their son.
They said the death of a woman in August last year from myocarditis should have been treated with greater urgency but instead authorities seemed more worried about creating vaccine hesitancy.
“The memo that went out after Rory’s death put a proper alert on it and I think that should have happened after the woman’s death, especially given the information that was coming through from international sources which aligned with the fact that there were issues with the vaccine and myocarditis,” Brett Nairn said.
“There was so much information coming out for the pharmacists that they were having to go through – it was like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Chris said.
“Why didn’t they highlight it? It should’ve had some importance on it, some urgency.”
Myocarditis is rare following vaccination, with international data showing one to 13 cases per 100,000 vaccine doses.
The rare condition is caused by many things, including viral infection, and about 95 people with myocarditis are seen in hospitals in New Zealand each year.
It is also treatable, with better outcomes the earlier symptoms are detected and acted on.
Brett believed his son might be alive today if health authorities had placed greater emphasis on the potential danger of myocarditis.
“Rory could be alive and I think if he had known what those symptoms were and realised he was actually suffering from myocarditis and there was a seriousness about it, he probably would’ve just gone to the doctor and he might well have been fine. Or he might not have been, it’s all hindsight” he said.
“The messaging at the time on the website, that I recall, was that it was mild and extremely rare. I know it’s shifted to rare now that there’s more evidence of myocarditis now than there was at the time. But the message is still safe and effective.
“Rory was a tradesman and I worked with him when we were working on his house at the time and every five minutes there were ads on the radio ‘Get your vaccine, get your vaccine, safe and effective, safe and effective’, just absolutely getting pumped out continually on the airwaves and how can something be considered safe when it can kill you?”
This week’s findings from the coroner had only confirmed what the pair had known since being called to Rory’s house early on 17 November 2021, after he collapsed as he was getting ready to go to the hospital due to his concern about heart flutters.
Brett said he was pleased to see the cause of death acknowledge by the coroner, but the process had felt hollow to him.
Chris said the situation still felt surreal.
“It’s all still settling in,” she said.
“We’ve just had the inquiry, we’ve just had Rory’s birthday, the findings are coming out, we’ve got his anniversary coming up. So I haven’t given myself the opportunity to let that sink in really because the outcome for us is the same – Rory’s gone.”
The couple did not receive the Covid-19 vaccine due to misgivings they had about the medication.
It had created tension in the family before Rory’s death due to his upcoming wedding and the crowd limits imposed if unvaccinated guests were allowed.
Chris had to leave her career of 22 years in early childhood education only two days before Rory’s death due to the vaccine mandate.
That was all compounded following his death, Brett said.
“The morning that Rory died I rang my brothers … and told them what had happened. They’re in Auckland, and Chris let her family know, and none of them were able to come to the funeral in Dunedin because of the travel restrictions. A few of them definitely tried and applied for exemptions but they were unable to get them,” he said.
“It wasn’t considered serious enough – burying somebody who died from the vaccine – to be given an exemption from that travel restriction.”
The couple had also struggled with the coronial process which followed Rory’s death.
Brett described it as dehumanising.
“It’s a very narrow process. So it doesn’t look at the broader context, which to us is really important – what is happening with myocarditis in terms of the vaccine in New Zealand and worldwide? Is there greater incidence of it? We would consider those questions extremely relevant to the case but it’s just looking at Rory.
“We all came away feeling quite unhealthy from the process. We didn’t find it a healthy or a healing process.”
They did not attend the third day of the inquest.
Part of it was about making a statement about their feelings of the process, but there was also some practicality behind the decision.
“We had limited funds,” Brett said.
“There were eight lawyers in there and most of them were on the payroll – they’re all getting paid heaps. The pharmacy’s lawyers were being paid by the pharmacy, but we had to pay for our lawyers – there was no legal aid.
“It’s kind of a boot in the guts to be honest.”
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The process did not feel like it was about Rory, Chris said.
“I just thought the whole process was around passing the buck. Everybody passed it back to the next person higher up, higher up, higher up and then bang it all comes down back to the pharmacy,” she said.
“I think people should be taking responsibility, not pushing that responsibility on to others. How about standing up and saying ‘Yeah, we did fail here. We could have done better’.”
But the couple had no ill-will towards the pharmacy or vaccinator involved.
“They were just doing what they were trained to do or asked to do,” Chris said.
“If things had been highlighted as important or urgent they would have picked that up, but in the barrage of information they were being supplied it got missed. And I don’t think many vaccinators had been making people aware of the risk of myocarditis.
“They’re just there doing their job. They’re not meaning harm.”
Most importantly, Brett and Chris wanted Rory to be remembered for the life he lived – a life of hard work and play. A life of family, love and adventure.
Rory was a keen hunter and fisher. He loved his rugby and his diving.
Chris and Brett said their son lived a full life and had a future filled with promise.
Coroner Sue Johnson first findings only touched on the cause, time and location of Rory’s death.
She would make further findings on the circumstances surrounding his death, and whether she needed to make any recommendations or comments, at a later date.