Our survey results show incentives aren’t enough to reach a 80% vaccination rate

John P. de New, The University of Melbourne; Anthony Scott, The University of Melbourne, and Kushneel Prakash, The University of MelbourneThe COVID-19 Delta variant has changed the vaccination game in Australia.

With outbreaks resulting in a prolonged lockdown for Sydney as well as shorter periods for other states, the proportion of Australians vaccinated has steadily increased while vaccine hesitancy has fallen.

The latest survey data collected by the Melbourne Institute show vaccine hesitancy had fallen to 21.5% of the adult population at the end of July 2021, compared with 33% at the end of May 2021.

But how much further can it fall?

Our data suggests there are qualitatively different types of vaccine hesitancy. The decline in vaccine hesitancy we have seen thus far is more about those who had just been “taking their time” rather than being steadfastly uncommitted.

Worryingly, our analyses suggest there remains a significant proportion of the population whose resistance to vaccination will be hard to shift, regardless of the incentive.

Our latest data indicates 11.8% of adult Australians are not willing to be vaccinated and a further 9.7% are unsure.

This data is derived from the Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey, a nationally representative survey of 1,200 Australians over the age of 18 every fortnight. The Melbourne Institute has been running this survey since March 2020 to track Australians’ attitudes towards the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among those aged 50 and older, 18% are steadfastly uncommitted to getting vaccinated — 10% being unwilling, while 8% say they are unsure.

Among those aged 18 to 49, the uncommitted rise almost to 28.8% — 14.1% being unwilling and 14.7% unsure.

Medical experts generally agree a vaccination rate of at least 80% among those aged 12 and above is needed to attain the herd immunity sufficient to stop larger outbreaks. The national cabinet has set a 70% vaccination rate to leave lockdowns largely behind, and a 80% rate to relax border restrictions and other measures.

Our results on the proportion of the population unwilling and unsure about vaccination suggest a struggle to reach these targets.

Read more:
VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on Closing the Gap, National Cabinet, and an 80% vaccination rate

Cash incentives not very effective

There may be few easy “nudges” to sway the uncommitted.

Of those who are unwilling or are unsure about vaccination, our survey shows no more than 6% of those aged 50 and older and no more than 16% of those aged 18 to 49 say they can be budged by an incentive such as a cash payment.

The chart below shows the responses of our 18-49-year-old survey participants about hypothetical cash incentives of $25, $50 and $100 for getting vaccinated immediately.

Slightly more of the participants were willing to accept the $100 payment over the smaller cash amounts. This suggests a few more people might be swayed by a much larger incentive, such as the $300 payment proposed by the federal Opposition. But our analysis suggests there is unlikely to be substantially more people willing to vaccinate.

Read more:
Paying Australians $300 to get vaccinated would be value for money

What about non-financial incentives?

If cash payments work only for a small proportion, what about other incentives?

One option is a vaccine passport to normality — allowing those that have been vaccinated to enjoy everyday activities such as dining in a restaurant, attending a concert or travelling.

The Europeans have done this with the EU Digital COVID Certificate, which provides proof the holder has been vaccinated, tested negative to COVID-19 or had it and recovered.

The national cabinet’s four-stage plan hints at this once the 70% vaccination rate is achieved, with points including easing restrictions and reducing quarantine arrangements for vaccinated residents.

But this may not increase vaccination rates by more than a few percentage points. The chart below shows less than 28% of those who are unwilling/unsure would submit to getting vaccinated even if the unvaccinated were banned from certain activities.

Breaking out the sticks

This steadfast hesitancy implies that debates about marketing campaigns and possible “carrots” are likely to give way to discussing “sticks” that do more than merely increase or prolong the nuisance factor for the unvaccinated.

Stronger legally binding restrictions could include outright vaccination requirements for work, school, day care and movement within society. In principle, this is nothing new. Children are required as a matter of course to provide their immunisation history to enrol in schools. The federal government doesn’t pay Family Tax Benefit Part A to the parents of an unvaccinated child.

However, heavy-handed mandatory vaccination policies are likely to be contested by some, simply due to being forced, driving those “on the fence” into the steadfast “anti-vax” camp, and possibly exacerbating the problem despite the good intention.

Read more:
Cash or freedoms: what will work in the race to get Australia vaccinated against COVID-19?

The federal government’s position is against mandatory vaccinations.

But the unanimous national cabinet plan to open the country up substantially at 70%-80% vaccination rates and not deal with future outbreaks by locking down means the unvaccinated must still contend with one of the largest sticks — indeed a “spiked club”.

Once we open up, the unvaccinated will be at much higher risk of illness, long-term medical consequences and even death. They will bear these consequences as individuals, without the special consideration or support that has been offered by governments previously.

It is crucial everyone understand this: if you are not vaccinated, the stick you should fear most, will be wielded by the virus itself.

Correction: This article originally stated children are required as a matter of course to be vaccinated to enrol in schools. This is the case only in some Australian jurisdictions. As a matter of course children are required to provide their immunisation history to enrol. The article has been amended to reflect this.The Conversation

John P. de New, Professorial Fellow (Professor of Economics), The University of Melbourne; Anthony Scott, Professor, The University of Melbourne, and Kushneel Prakash, Research Fellow, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus Update: Australia

From smallpox to polio, vaccine rollouts have always had doubters. But they work in the end


David Isaacs, University of SydneyIn 2019, before COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified vaccine hesitancy as one of the top ten greatest threats to global health.

Every year, vaccination saves around 4-5 million lives, although a further 1.5 million lives could be saved annually with improved global vaccine coverage.

Now, we are seeing a new round of vaccine hesitancy in some corners as the COVID vaccine is rolled out. But that’s nothing new. Anti-vaccination movements have existed for as long as vaccination.

Read more:
Coronavirus: the road to vaccine roll-out is always bumpy, as 20th-century pandemics show

From cowpox came the smallpox vaccine

The first modern vaccine was the smallpox vaccine which English country general practitioner Edward Jenner developed from cowpox at the end of the 18th century.

Smallpox was known as the “most terrible of all the ministers of death”, so Jenner’s smallpox vaccine was rapidly adopted around the world. However, some were scared or sceptical.

English satirist James Gillray famously depicted cows emerging from the bodies of terrified people being given cowpox vaccine, as seen below.

Edward Jenner vaccinating patients in the Smallpox and Inoculation Hospital at St. Pancras: the patients develop features of cows. Coloured etching by J. Gillray, 1802.
Wellcome Collection., CC BY-NC-ND

In 1853, concerned by pockets of poor uptake of smallpox vaccine, the British parliament introduced the Vaccination Act, making infant smallpox vaccination compulsory. Mandatory vaccination fomented opposition, something we should remember if considering making a modern vaccine mandatory.

In 1885, over 80,000 vaccine dissenters marched through Leicester carrying banners, a child’s coffin and an effigy of Jenner. Dissent spread to the US and Canada. Eventually, the success of Jenner’s smallpox vaccine silenced the anti-smallpox vaccination movement.

Nevertheless, in 1950, over 50 million people worldwide caught smallpox, most in Africa and India. About 10 million died, and it took an extraordinary WHO campaign, in which Australian virologist Frank Fenner played a key role, to eliminate smallpox from the world forever. That was achieved in 1978.

Polio, the silent killer

In the first half of the 20th century, as smallpox began to disappear, polio (infantile paralysis) was the disease most feared in resource-rich countries.

Philip Roth’s novel Nemesis describes the terror of polio, the silent killer, sweeping through Newark, New Jersey, in 1944 killing or paralysing its victims. It is easy to draw parallels with COVID-19.

America was desperate for a polio vaccine. Two Jewish virologists whose families fled the pogroms in Europe, Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk, competed to develop the first polio vaccine.

Salk’s vaccine, made from killed polio viruses, was ready for a large clinical trial in 1954. Families were desperate for their children to be enrolled; children who did so called themselves Polio Pioneers.

Even before the results of the trial were made public, vaccine companies were asked to tender to mass produce the Salk vaccine. Five companies applied, four major pharmaceutical firms and one Californian family firm called Cutter Laboratories. The whole country held its breath and tuned their radios as the trial results were announced.

The press release showed protection against the virus. Reporters cried, “It works, it works”, church bells pealed, sirens blared. Vaccine production began and the vaccine was launched triumphantly in 1955.

The Cutter Incident

But within two weeks disaster struck. Children who received the Cutter vaccine (but not the vaccines made by the four other companies) started to develop paralysis.

Cutter Laboratories had failed to kill the poliovirus incorporated in its vaccine. Of 200,000 children given the Cutter vaccine, 40,000 developed polio, 200 were paralysed and 10 died.

Although the polio vaccination program stalled due to the “Cutter Incident”, the fear of catching polio was so great the public was soon reassured the other vaccines had not caused polio.

Universal polio vaccination resumed with excellent uptake.

This historic 1962 image depicted an aerial view of a long line of people awaiting their polio vaccination. The line was so long, it surrounded a city auditorium in San Antonio, Texas.
This historic 1962 image depicted an aerial view of a long line of people awaiting their polio vaccination. The line was so long, it surrounded a city auditorium in San Antonio, Texas.
CDC/Mr. Stafford Smith

What are the lessons from history for COVID-19 vaccination?

Firstly, the public will tolerate risk of harm from a vaccine if their fear of the disease exceeds their fear of the vaccine.

The immediate response of many countries to news of rare but serious cases of blood clotting occurring in people given the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was to suspend use of the vaccine, at least for younger adults.

In public health, the precautionary principle means acting to prevent harm. Arguably, this is an example of inappropriate use of the precautionary principle (which, in public health, means acting to prevent harm). Perhaps there was not sufficient consideration of the possibility that suspending vaccine delivery was a disproportionate response which would alarm the public and increase vaccine hesitancy.

Although the risk of blood clotting with the AstraZeneca vaccine is extremely low, at times when there is almost no COVID-19 circulating (as sometimes happens in Australia and New Zealand) the risk of dying from blood clotting due to the vaccine is slightly higher than dying from COVID-19.

In Australia, a concentration on individual risk at a single point in time ignores the benefits to the community of widespread vaccine uptake.

This historic image depicts a gathering of people in Columbus, Georgia, who were awaiting their polio vaccination, during the earlier days of the National Polio Immunization Program.
This historic image depicts a gathering of people in Columbus, Georgia, who were awaiting their polio vaccination, during the earlier days of the National Polio Immunization Program.
CDC/Charles N. Farmer

And as soon as COVID-19 incidence rises, the risk of dying from COVID-19 massively outweighs any slight vaccine risk.

Indeed, COVID-19 itself is far more likely to cause blood clots than the vaccine. However, contravening autonomy by making vaccination mandatory threatens civil liberties and should only be considered in extreme circumstances.

Complacency, inconvenient access to vaccines, and lack of confidence are key factors in vaccine hesitancy.

However, trusted health workers in communities can build public confidence in vaccines and combat hesitancy.

Open and honest communication about vaccine safety is important, but messaging also needs to put vaccine risk in perspective.

History tells us the public can tolerate risk of harm from vaccines when the severity of the disease warrants the risk.

Read more:
Vaccine rollout: history shows us that it’s always a bit shambolic

The Conversation

David Isaacs, Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Media reports about vaccine hesitancy could contribute to the problem

Heather Green, Griffith University and Joan Carlini, Griffith UniversityAlongside logistical and supply issues, vaccine hesitancy has been a notable hurdle in Australia’s troubled vaccine rollout.

The news the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) now recommends Pfizer over AstraZeneca for everyone under 60, owing to a rare blood clotting disorder, is proving another blow to vaccine confidence.

With active local COVID cases in Victoria and New South Wales, it’s timely to be considering all possible factors which may be contributing to vaccine hesitancy.

One is the media. While news reports of vaccine hesitancy may well be describing genuine community concerns, they could be inadvertently fuelling COVID vaccine fears.

Why are some Australians reluctant to get a COVID vaccine?

While Australians perceive their environment is safe and relatively free from COVID-19, some will remain unmotivated to have the jab. They may hesitate to be immunised as they believe the vaccine could pose a greater risk than the virus itself.

This is not the case. ATAGI’s evolving recommendations ensure the benefit of getting vaccinated against COVID outweighs the risk for every age group.

Fear, meanwhile, is a behavioural motivator. The latest outbreak in Melbourne saw record numbers of Victorians turn up for vaccination.

Read more:
From smallpox to polio, vaccine rollouts have always had doubters. But they work in the end

A Griffith University survey conducted in the middle of 2020 found 68% of people would take a COVID-19 vaccine if one was available. Those who said they wouldn’t had concerns regarding side effects, quality of testing, and speed of vaccine development.

So we can see even when community transmission in Australia was higher, and before we knew about rare adverse events like the blood clots, safety was a key concern.

A person puts their hand up against their upper arm, so as to block an injection.
Vaccine hesitancy can stem from concerns about the safety of the vaccine.

Reporting on vaccine hesitancy could worsen the problem

For the past several months, it seems as though every other day there’s been a new report or survey in the news, revealing x proportion of people are hesitant about getting a COVID vaccine.

Our attitudes and behaviours are shaped by what others in society do — social norms. A recent study found university students in the United States who perceived their peers felt COVID-19 vaccination was important were more likely to report they intended to get a vaccine themselves.

Similarly, it’s important to acknowledge there’s a real danger hesitancy and delay in vaccination, when reported widely in the media, could catch on to more people.

Read more:
Diverse spokespeople and humour: how the government’s next ad campaign could boost COVID vaccine uptake

A review of 34 studies found the way parents interpreted media reports about vaccination depended on their pre-existing beliefs. For example, a report of a “rare” side effect might reassure parents who already believed vaccine benefits outweigh risks, whereas the same report could discourage parents who were already concerned about side effects.

Indeed, humans are prone to confirmation bias — paying more attention to information that fits with prior beliefs. Seeking and considering evidence which goes against our beliefs is hard for our brains.

But the media can help with this in the way they frame their reports. For example, emphasising that the majority of Australians want to and intend to vaccinate is a better option than focusing on the number who don’t.

For people already hesitating, another report could further shift the balance away from vaccination. So reporters should think carefully about the way they present vaccine hesitancy stories (and the need to present them in the first instance).

Reporting on vaccine safety also must be handled carefully

In Italy, media reporting about a small number of deaths following a batch of influenza vaccines in the winter of 2014/2015 was linked to a 10% reduction in influenza vaccination among people 65 and older compared to the previous season.

These deaths were quickly confirmed as unrelated to vaccination, but it seems the early reports had a significant effect on behaviour.

In a global study, three of 13 national and state level immunisation managers interviewed said “negative information conveyed in the mass media” contributed to vaccine hesitancy in their countries.

On the flip side, media reports about influenza and vaccination can also increase vaccination uptake. In this study, careful data analysis showed higher numbers of news reports with “influenza” or “flu” in the headline corresponded with higher flu vaccination uptake in the same year.

A man on a tablet computer.
Media coverage about vaccines can both help and hinder vaccine confidence.

What should the media aim for in reporting on COVID vaccination?

Any reporting on Australians’ inclination to vaccinate should reinforce what is in fact the social norm — the intention of the majority to receive a COVID vaccine.

Further, media reporting on COVID vaccines should be careful to contextualise the benefits alongside the risks, and regularly remind consumers of reliable sources such as federal and state health departments and ATAGI.

Read more:
Alarmist reporting on COVID-19 will only heighten people’s anxieties and drive vaccine hesitancy

And while the media must be cognisant of its role, the government needs to act quickly to reverse the hesitancy trend. People are looking for reasons to have the jab; they are desperate for a national roadmap out of COVID-19.

If Australians could see how becoming vaccinated would contribute to economic prosperity (for example, reopening tourism and international education), and facilitate other things returning to normal, such as our ability to travel overseas, they would be motivated into action.The Conversation

Heather Green, Senior Lecturer, School of Applied Psychology, Griffith University and Joan Carlini, Lecturer, Department of Marketing, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

I’m over 50 and hesitant about the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine. Should I wait for Pfizer?

Hassan Vally, La Trobe UniversityIt’s been well documented that there’s a significant level of vaccine hesitancy in the Australian community at the moment. This appears to be a particular issue among adults over 50 concerning the AstraZeneca vaccine, for which this group is now eligible.

Hesitancy over the AstraZeneca vaccine, likely to be stemming largely from the very small risk of blood clots, is leading some people to ask: can’t I just wait and get the Pfizer vaccine later?

It didn’t help things when federal health minister Greg Hunt said yesterday there will be enough supply of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) later in the year for anyone concerned about the AstraZeneca shot. Hunt has since pedalled back on his remarks.

Despite the mixed messaging, you shouldn’t wait for a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine later. There are a number of benefits to getting the AstraZeneca jab now.

Thinking about the blood clot risk

Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), an unusual blood clotting disorder, has been associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

It’s important to emphasise it’s not unreasonable to have concerns about the risk of a potentially serious side effect from the AstraZeneca vaccine, or any other vaccine. The challenge is in understanding the magnitude of this risk, putting this risk into perspective, and then weighing up the risks versus the benefits before making a decision.

The difficulty is your brain plays a variety of tricks on you when you try to make sense of risks like this. For example, we have a tendency to perceive the risks of very rare adverse outcomes (such as TTS) as being greater than they are.

We also tend to be more concerned about negative consequences that may arise as a result of our actions than our inactions. That is, we’re generally more worried about a potential adverse outcome from taking a vaccine than any adverse outcome that may result from not taking it. This of course isn’t logical, but is another one of the errors we make in processing risks.

Read more:
I’m over 50 and can now get my COVID vaccine. Is the AstraZeneca vaccine safe? Does it work? What else do I need to know?

In terms of assessing the risk of TTS associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine for over 50s, we’ve always known the risk is very low.

In Australia it’s estimated this syndrome occurs in six per million people vaccinated, on average, with the risk even lower for those over 50. This is about the same as your risk of serious injury from being struck by lightning in a year in Australia.

Importantly, as we’ve got better at detecting and treating this condition, the likelihood of severe outcomes from TTS have come down considerably. So the rare risk of serious illness from this syndrome looks to be even rarer than we first thought.

To put TTS into perspective, it’s also useful to note we see around 50 blood clots unrelated to TTS every day in Australia.

Weighing the risks against the benefits

The benefits of getting the AstraZeneca vaccine are considerable for over 50s, from both an individual and a community perspective.

When opting to get a vaccine, you’re protecting yourself against the future risk of infection and possible severe illness. For over 50s who contract COVID the risk of severe illness and death is very real. We’re also learning many people who get COVID-19 suffer with ongoing and sometimes debilitating symptoms, a phenomenon called “long COVID”.

Another factor which may be driving hesitancy around the AstraZeneca vaccine is the perception the Pfizer vaccine works better. But the most recent data suggest any difference in the performance of these vaccines may be smaller than we originally believed.

Although phase 3 clinical trial data indicated the AstraZeneca vaccine had an efficacy of around 70%, new real-world data from the United Kingdom tells us it could be as much as 85%-90% effective in protecting against symptomatic COVID-19.

This is positive news and not far off the 95% figure for the Pfizer vaccine seen in clinical trials and in the real world.

And apart from effectively protecting against severe illness and death from the original strain, the AstraZeneca vaccine appears to work almost as well in protecting against more severe outcomes for variants of concern, such as the UK variant. Early signs also suggest the vaccine is working quite well to reduce transmission of the virus.

It’s also important to understand — and this applies to all age groups — that we’re getting vaccinated for the health of the community as a whole.

Although a great deal of the success or failure of the vaccination program has been framed in terms of reaching herd immunity, we don’t need to reach a certain threshold for the community to reap benefits. Every vaccine delivered makes a difference as the greater the proportion of the population vaccinated, the more difficult it is for the virus to spread.

As we’ve seen in Taiwan in recent weeks, being complacent about COVID is flirting with danger.

Even though we don’t have community transmission of COVID in Australia now, and we may feel safe and secure in this climate, we need to remember things could change very quickly.

Read more:
A balancing act between benefits and risks: making sense of the latest vaccine news

Get the jab

There’s really no logical reason for someone over 50 to wait for an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine, like Pfizer or Moderna. If you do choose to wait, there’s no guarantee when any alternative might be available, and in the interim you risk leaving yourself vulnerable.

By stepping up to get your vaccine as soon as you can, you protect yourself against severe COVID and make a significant contribution to putting this pandemic behind us, including getting Australia closer to opening up international borders.The Conversation

Hassan Vally, Associate Professor, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Alarmist reporting on COVID-19 will only heighten people’s anxieties and drive vaccine hesitancy

Denis Muller, The University of MelbourneFrom an ethics perspective, it has been a bad couple of weeks for media coverage of COVID-19.

First, there was a highly questionable story in The Australian about China allegedly weaponising coronavirus, with the headline “‘Virus warfare’ in China files” splashed across the front page.

The author of the article, Sharri Markson, claims a document written by Chinese scientists and Chinese public health officials in 2015 discussed the weaponisation of a SARS coronavirus.

According to the article, the document was headed “The Unnatural Origin of SARS and New Species of Man-Made Viruses as Genetic Bioweapons”.

Markson reported the US State Department had obtained the document in the course of investigating the origin of COVID-19. In her article and others that followed, there was talk of a third world war in which biological weapons would be deployed.

However, Chengxin Pan, an associate professor at Deakin University, offered a different explanation for the document’s origins. He said in a tweet the document Markson cited was in fact a book, the contents of which could be found on the internet or at a Chinese online bookstore.

Dominic Meagher, an economist at the Lowy Institute with an extensive China background, tweeted the book was

pretty clearly an idiotic conspiracy theory about how the US and Japan had introduced SARS to China.

The ABC program Media Watch raised these questions and more about the article’s credibility.

Markson has replied that the Chinese Foreign Ministry and Global Times newspaper viewed the document as legitimate and not a conspiracy theory. She said while none of the critics quoted by Media Watch were bioweapons experts, she had interviewed multiple high-level specialists in biological weapons compliance.

The ethical problems here are twofold. First, there are clearly questions about the provenance of the document. Was the document uncovered by a US State Department investigation or is it a book available for public sale?

It is a basic fact that colours the entire article, and the questions are not resolved by Markson’s response.

Second, the way the story is framed as revealing Chinese weaponising of biological material is highly alarmist. This generates further public anxiety about COVID-19 and adds to the climate of Sinophobia in Australia. The justification for doing so is, on the available evidence, highly questionable.

In a pandemic or any other emergency, the first ethical duty of the media is to report accurately and soberly, and specifically not to induce unjustified anxiety or panic.

Read more:
Before coronavirus, China was falsely blamed for spreading smallpox. Racism played a role then, too

Naming and shaming

In another major ethical lapse, the Australian Financial Review ran a story that named and shamed a Sydney man who had tested positive for the virus. To make it worse, the newspaper put his photo on the front page.

This was wrong and irresponsible for several reasons.

The man had visited several barbecue shops across Sydney while unknowingly positive. When this became known as part of the media’s general contact-tracing publicity, he was dubbed “Barbecue Man” by the Sydney media.

So he was already a figure of fun when the Financial Review identified him. Its excuse for naming him? He was a financial analyst doing due diligence on the Barbecues Galore chain. The AFR’s editor-in-chief, Michael Stutchbury, claimed this meant it was in the public interest to identify him as carrying COVID.

That is absolute drivel. There is no rational connection between the man’s health and the health of the barbecue business.

Other media, including the Daily Mail and news.com, jumped on the bandwagon and named him, too. Both outlets even ran a photo grabbed from Facebook of the man and his wife. No moral compass whatever.

If the media go on doing this, it will discourage people from coming forward for testing. Who wants to see themselves plastered over the front page and given names like Barbecue Man? That is where the irresponsibility lies.

The Age was guilty of something similar a couple of months ago when it published a map of the weekend movements of a young man who was unwittingly COVID-positive and wrote an article holding him up to ridicule.

This kind of media behaviour is mediaeval: like putting people in the stocks and chucking rotten tomatoes at them. And it is a gross breach of privacy. A person’s health is among the most private classes of information that exists. To breach it for the sake of a cheap laugh is indefensible.

Read more:
The ebb and flow of COVID-19 vaccine support: what social media tells us about Australians and the jab

Avoiding misleading information

These weren’t the only problematic reports. On May 13, the Australian Press Council found a subhead in the Herald Sun saying “Six People Died During Pfizer Trial” was misleading because it implied the vaccine caused the deaths, when in fact the deaths were not related to the vaccine.

Four of the six deceased had been given a placebo during the trial, and the other two deaths were not related to the vaccine.

The Herald Sun defended the subhead on the basis the story said the US Food and Drug Administration had been told about these deaths because they occurred during the period of the trial.

That is materially different from implying – as the headline clearly did – that the vaccine caused the deaths.

The press council said that newspapers needed to take more than usual care to avoid misleading the public in the midst of a pandemic. And by failing to do so, the Herald Sun had breached two of the council’s principles — one concerning accuracy and the other concerning fairness and balance.

Read more:
Just the facts, or more detail? To battle vaccine hesitancy, the messaging has to be just right

In an atmosphere where there is already a degree of resistance to being vaccinated, the Herald Sun subhead was clearly a beat-up with the potential to harm the public interest.

So, in the space of a couple of weeks elements of the print media have sought to capitalise without justification on public anxieties about China and the safety of COVID vaccines, and have pilloried an innocent man while at the same time committing a gross breach of his personal privacy.

In an age when the public must rely increasingly on the mass media for reliable and responsible information — since social media has shown itself to be unreliable and irresponsible — these newspapers have abrogated their first duty to the public.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It’s crucial we address COVID vaccine hesitancy among health workers. Here’s where to start

Holly Seale, UNSW

Health workers are at higher risk of COVID infection and illness. They can also act as extremely efficient transmitters of viruses to others in medical and aged care facilities.

That’s why health workers have been prioritised to get a COVID vaccine when it becomes available in Australia.

But just because health workers are among those first in line to receive a COVID vaccine, it doesn’t necessarily mean they all will.

Read more:
Australia’s vaccine rollout will now start next month. Here’s what we’ll need

Our health systems represent a microcosm of the community. Just like in the broader community, there will be health workers highly motivated to get the COVID-19 vaccine, driven by concern about risk to themselves, their family, and their patients. There will also be those who have medical conditions, those that may not be able to get vaccinated, and staff who are hesitant.

There will also be health workers with questions about the vaccine, who perhaps need further support to help them decide.

Reports from the US track vaccine hesitancy among health workers at around 29%. However, it’s important to note different groups have different reasons for COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy; rates and reasons can vary across and within countries.

Protecting health workers is critical. Achieving high COVID-19 vaccine uptake among health workers will not only protect these critical staff members, it will also support high levels of uptake among the general public.

Personal health workers are the most trusted source of information on the COVID-19 vaccine.

A chart showing how personal health care providers are the most trusted source of Information on the COVID-19 vaccine.

KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor: December 2020, KAISER FAMILY FOUNDATION., CC BY

Health workers can also be complacent and uncertain about vaccination

Decision-making around vaccination can be a complex mix of psychosocial, cultural, political and other factors.

Health workers, just like the broader public, may perceive they are at low risk of acquiring a vaccine-preventable disease. They may have concerns about the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine and/or may find it challenging to get vaccinated.

All these factors may make a health worker reluctant to get the vaccine and communication strategies should be tailored to take these factors into account.

A nurse giving one of her patients a vaccine
Encouraging vaccine confidence among health-care workers will also support high vaccine uptake among the general public.

Read more:
The Oxford vaccine has unique advantages, as does Pfizer’s. Using both is Australia’s best strategy

How to achieve high and equitable vaccination coverage among health workers

While most health workers understand how vaccines work generally, they may not necessarily be experts across all vaccine types. If we want to ensure they feel comfortable to receive it and advocate for it, then we must address any misunderstanding and concerns health workers may have. This may be focused on the vaccine itself (how it was developed, effectiveness and so on), or the necessity of vaccination.

A group of health-care workers
We need to remember most health workers aren’t vaccine experts.

One strategy that may assist will be to work with middle managers, as they are influential, trusted and can act as vaccine advocates and agents of change. They may also play a role addressing questions or concerns where they arise. If a COVID vaccine becomes an occupational requirement for health workers, hospitals and other organisations need to include middle managers in the development and roll-out of programs. They can then help ensure staff members understand the rationale for the mandate, which staff members are targeted and why.

Investing in the staff responsible for delivering vaccines in the workplace, as well as other potential vaccine allies such as managers, can help reduce COVID vaccine hesitancy among health workers. That will benefit all of us.The Conversation

Holly Seale, Associate professor, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.