Will the new COVID vaccine ads help curb hesitancy?

Doug Hendrie

27/01/2021 4:41:35 PM

The $24 million campaign is aimed at reassuring Australians that the vaccines used in the rollout are safe and effective.

TGA head John Skerritt
TGA head Adjunct Professor John Skerritt features in the new Government advertisements.

More than three-quarters of all Australians told pollsters they would be willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as of November.
But will they actually do it, now that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been approved?
To boost the chances of high rates of vaccination, the Federal Government has launched a $24 million ad campaign to reassure Australians that the vaccines used in the rollout are safe and effective, as well as detail on how to get vaccinated.
The first part of the campaign features Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) boss Adjunct Professor John Skerritt, amongst other high-profile health experts. In the first ad, Professor Skerritt says ‘we only will approve vaccines when we have enough evidence that they work and that they’re safe’.
The campaign will run across traditional and digital media, with broader messages running alongside targeted messaging for specific groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, multicultural communities, and people with a disability.
Vaccine hesitancy expert Professor Julie Leask told newsGP this is a ‘delicate time,’ given the relatively high rates of acceptance according to polls, coupled with an expected level of uncertainty and hesitancy around any new vaccination program.
‘How this is managed and how any minor controversies are managed will make a big difference to how Australians accept this vaccination campaign. What doctors and practice nurses say about this campaign will be very influential,’ she said. 
‘We want really high coverage, we want as many people as are eligible to get vaccinated to protect themselves.
‘A good campaign has both broad and targeted messaging, with two-way communications, and responsive messaging. Sure, people can go to GPs – but many will look it up online first.
‘People need to know about this, in their own languages and at a level appropriate to their health literacy, literacy, and numeracy. It can’t just be one size fits all … [but] I’m reasonably confident there will be diversity in messages, channels and spokespeople.’
Professor Leask said she is less worried about social media misinformation on vaccines, and more about public disputes between experts over whether vaccines are good enough or indicated for a particular group.
‘Most audiences have good conspiracy theory antennae,’ she said.
‘Even people with slightly conspiratorial beliefs revolving around mistrust may be likely to get it once they see influential people in their networks get the vaccine.’
GP and medical epidemiologist Dr Nicole Allard told newsGP the enormous vaccination undertaking rests in part on creating community buy-in.
‘We have to start now if we’re going to start vaccinating in February, to dispel myths and encourage people,’ she said.
‘I would like the plan articulated as quickly as possible with community engagement strongly featured.
‘We [also] need assurances that people will get it, regardless of Medicare status. There are clearly large numbers of international students stuck here on visa extensions.’ 
RMIT behavioural researcher Dr Margaret Heffernan said that expectations of vaccine hesitancy amongst migrant and refugee communities are ‘unfounded’.
‘Uptake among the general population will be dependent on trust in the vaccines’ safety and government resources addressing the nuances of vaccine hesitancy among community groups,’ she said.
‘Migrant communities have generalised vaccine acceptance and are more likely to trust respected local pro-COVID-19 vaccine influencers, encouraging widespread vaccine uptake.’
But other experts fear that misinformation may play a larger role in reducing uptake.
Associate Professor Hassan Vally, a La Trobe University epidemiologist, told newsGP he expects vaccine hesitancy to be a much bigger problem than even the new, highly-contagious COVID variants
‘We’ve had years of [vaccine] misinformation and they will dominate the landscape,’ he said.
‘There are all these conspiracy theories built on absolute rubbish around these vaccines, so dispelling myths will be important.’
GPs are expected to play a key role in addressing concerns through consultation-room discussions with patients.
GP Dr Magdalena Simonis told newsGP conversations about vaccines are essential in order to get high uptake.
‘Little is being said in mainstream media to assist people come over the line of hesitancy to a level of trust in the system,’ she said. ‘It is a big ask but one GPs are key to assist with.’
The Department of Health was approached for comment.

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Dr Magdalena Simonis   28/01/2021 7:34:19 AM

In the conversation today:
‘.. But a recent analysis of COVID-19 information on government websites found only two of the 52 documents examined could be read with relative ease. Most of the others were full of long sentences and unneccesarily difficult words where simple language would do.’
Also, ‘Almost half of Australian adults struggle to read. That doesn’t mean they are illiterate. It means they struggle to understand a lot of written information.’ We need to keep it simple - have already prepared a written a list of Q&As for patients to this effect. Happy to share.

Dr Lisa Gwenyth Beecham   4/02/2021 11:23:15 AM

Yes please share Magdalena the Q&A