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Almost 30% of Australians unsure about COVID vaccine – and that’s where GPs come in


Doug Hendrie


20/11/2020 3:26:01 PM

GPs will play a vital role in reassuring patients about the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccines, according to one expert.

Vaccine needle
Tackling caution about new COVID vaccines will be a key GP role in the months ahead. (Image: AAP)

New research from the Australian National University (ANU) has found almost three in 10 Australians are at least somewhat hesitant about a COVID-19 vaccine, with 13% either highly hesitant or resistant.
 
But the majority – 58.5% – definitely plan to get a vaccine once available.
 
The findings have prompted calls for GPs to play a key role in reassuring their patients of the safety and efficacy of vaccines for the deadly virus, once approved.
 
While these hesitancy rates seem much higher than Australia’s overall vaccination rate – which is now at 94% for children up to the age of five – University of Sydney vaccine hesitancy expert Professor Julie Leask told The Guardian these results were ‘not a high level of resistance for a new vaccine still being trialled’.
 
The pre-print ANU study is based on a nationally representative survey of more than 3000 Australian adults undertaken in August.
 
Co-author Associate Professor Ben Edwards told newsGP the ‘critically important’ data for GPs is the almost 30% of people who are likely but not certain to have the vaccine.
 
He said those who are highly hesitant or resistant are unlikely to change, suggesting public health efforts should focus on the likely but not certain group.
 
‘We need a large proportion of that group to go from likely to definitely, to break the hold COVID-19 has on Australia,’ Associate Professor Edwards said. 
 
‘Generally speaking, Australian data suggests we are on a par with Europe in terms of hesitancy, and we have less hesitancy than in the US.
 
‘GPs will play a crucial role in the public information campaigns and getting the highest possible level of vaccination. Reassurance and providing clear information to patients is a critically important thing.’
 
Hesitancy rates among respondents were higher among females, people in disadvantaged areas, those who believe COVID-19 risks are overstated, those with more populist views and people with higher levels of religiosity.
 
By contrast, higher household income, more confidence in state and territory governments, and those with higher levels of social distancing are less hesitant about a prospective vaccine.
 
People aged over 55 are much more likely to say they intend to get the vaccine than younger people.
 
Associate Professor Edwards said these nuances suggest GPs in areas where people are more likely to be vaccine hesitant should be on alert.
 
‘Our findings suggest that vaccine hesitancy, which accounts for a significant proportion of the population, can be addressed by public health messaging but that for a significant minority of the population with strongly held beliefs, alternative policy measures may well be needed to achieve sufficient vaccination coverage to end the pandemic,’ the ANU authors wrote.
 
The research comes as encouraging early efficacy results of between 90% and 95% protection have been reported from a number of the leading vaccine candidates, though no vaccine has yet been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, and the safety profiles of the vaccine candidates are not yet known.
 
Australia has purchased 134 million doses of leading vaccine candidates, with rollout potentially beginning as early as March.
 
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Dr Carolyn Cheng - Ling Ee   24/11/2020 6:17:38 AM

“The safety profile of the candidates is not yet known”. As a GP I need to have all the safety data to hand before I “convince” my patients. I’m all for the vaccines, but I understand why 30% are hesitant. Hesitancy is not the problem and GPs are not the solution - adequate safety data is!