Almost a quarter of adults say ‘freedom of choice’ a valid reason not to be vaccinated: Survey

Jolyon Attwooll

8/07/2021 5:22:24 PM

Most surveyed on attitudes towards COVID vaccination believe it should be compulsory – but a significant portion say people should be free to choose.

Vaccine survey
While the new survey suggests most think COVID vaccine should be compulsory, almost a quarter say refusing is a valid ‘freedom of choice’.

This article was updated at 8.30 pm on Thursday 8 July to include comments from Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Conducted by market research consultancy CoreData, the survey involved 1611 Australians and was carried out following the implementation of Sydney’s ongoing lockdown.
Vaccination levels in the city have been under the spotlight since its current outbreak started three weeks ago, with an airport limousine driver at the centre of the outbreak allegedly working unvaccinated despite being in one of the high-priority vaccination groups.
It was also reported that two-thirds of the staff at the Summit Care Baulkham Hills aged care home – where five residents and multiple staff members have been infected with COVID – had not been vaccinated.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Brad Hazzard have both said they believe the state would likely not be in its current situation if more people had received vaccine doses.
‘What is apparent is that – and this has been demonstrated by every other place in the world, and we can’t pretend we’re different in NSW or Australia – is that you can’t live with the Delta variant unless you have a certain proportion of your population vaccinated,’ Premier Berejiklian said on Thursday.

It should be noted, however, that Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the assertion that restrictions could have been avoided with more vaccines as ‘completely and utterly false’.
‘The national vaccination plan that was adopted last year and all of the targets, even on their most optimistic, scenarios which haven’t been realised, none of them put Australia in a position where a suppression strategy could have been lifted at any time at least by the end of October,’ he told reporters on Thursday.
‘So the suggestion that somehow there was a vaccination rate that would have put us in a different position right now to what was planned last year is simply not true.
‘There was never a 65% opportunity for Australia at this time of the year.’
The new survey found that 23.7 % of people believe ‘freedom of choice’ is a valid reason for not receiving the COVID vaccine.
However, there was a significant majority who believe the vaccinations should be given as a matter of course.
In response to the question ‘Do you agree that it should be compulsory for all eligible Australians to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?’, a total of 68.8% indicated they either ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ agreed with the query.
The group that most strongly advocated for the vaccine is in the eldest age category (76 and older), with 86% of respondents saying they agree vaccination should be compulsory.
A total of 61% of those surveyed believe medical reasons are justification for not having a COVID vaccine.
There was also broad support for restricting activities for those who do not have the vaccine, with more than two-thirds (68.1%) saying unvaccinated people should be restricted from domestic and international travel. More than four in five (80.5%) say people without the vaccine should not be front-line workers.
But a strong majority (71.8%) disagreed with the suggestion those without vaccinations should be denied access to Medicare.
The survey was carried out among a broad cross-section of the population from all the states and territories, including a wide demographic spread and a mix of age groups. The average age of those surveyed – and who answered the relevant enquiry – was 48.
The data was released amid growing calls for a more prominent campaign to challenge vaccine hesitancy and encourage more people to be given the injection.

Crikey this week reported on research suggesting that only a small fraction of the Federal Government’s online COVID marketing campaign spend has gone towards addressing hesitancy, quoting a figure of $32,000.
In a response to an enquiry from newsGP, a Department of Health (DoH) spokesperson contested those details.
‘For the record, the calculation of $32,000 reported in the Crikey article is incorrect,’ the spokesperson said.
‘There has been a significant investment across the digital-specific advertising across a range of formats, including video, social media, digital display, digital audio and search advertising.’
The spokesperson said $41 million has been invested in an education campaign with an overall focus on supporting confidence in the vaccines.
The DoH provided no further breakdown of how funding for the official campaign had been spent.

Infectious diseases specialist and former Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth is the face of the Federal Government’s COVID vaccine advertising campaign. (Image: Department of Health)

The first stages of the public information campaign were launched shortly after the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved the Pfizer vaccine for use in Australia in January, with a funding figure of $23.9 million stated in the official announcement.
The face of the Government’s current campaign is Dr Nick Coatsworth, an infectious diseases specialist and a former Deputy Chief Medical Officer. The Chief Nurse Professor Alison McMillan and TGA head Professor John Skerritt have also featured in communications that have faced criticism for not providing a compelling enough message to the general public.
The DoH spokesperson indicated the current campaign is likely to change.
‘The whole-of-government media buying agency, Universal McCann, recommends and schedules the media channels and placements for the national COVID-19 vaccines campaign,’ they said.
‘This will evolve along with the nature of the campaign to target different audiences to align with the vaccine rollout to different age groups.’
The RACGP has strongly advocated for a broader campaign to challenge vaccine hesitancy. President Dr Karen Price told newsGP last week that ‘more action is needed’ on vaccination messaging.
‘This country urgently needs a comprehensive, well-targeted, nationwide campaign to boost vaccine confidence in the community,’ she said.
‘Unless our campaign is large-scale and effective, negative vaccination commentary and conspiracy theories will have a far greater impact on vaccination rates than should be the case.
‘We must reach everyone, so the campaign must be carefully tailored so it speaks to different groups of people based on their circumstances and needs.’
Australia’s capacity for administering vaccines has expanded significantly in a short time, with more general practices across the country this week starting to deliver Pfizer vaccinations – despite some supply issues.
Tuesday was a record day for the number of vaccinations that took place across the country, with 165,475 given in total – including 81,908 in primary care – although that level fell on Wednesday. The country’s total now stands at 8,706,799 doses.
Just over a fifth of those aged over 70 (21.5%) have now had two vaccine doses.
The vaccination rate remains significantly short of the necessary target – calculated by one consultancy firm this week to be 221,359 doses every day – if the country is to reach an 80% vaccination level that has been suggested will be needed for herd immunity.
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