Push to lift vaccine uptake

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“The vaccine is our door to freedom … We need to communicate to people that there are many broad benefits to vaccination which relate to our health, wellbeing, our economy, travel and being re-connected with our families interstate and overseas.”

Jessica Kaufman, a research fellow in the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s Vaccine Uptake Group, added that in a country such as Australia where locally acquired case numbers are low, people needed incentives other than preventing disease to make any real or perceived vaccination risks seem worthwhile.

“We are stuck back in lockdown now and that is what we’re trying to stop,” she said.

“That original messaging of ‘you could be sick and die’ feels very far away, what we want now is to be not locked down anymore, we want to make plans again, so it needs to leverage off that.”

She said more nimble communication based on current concerns – such as the risk of blood clotting from the AstraZeneca vaccine – and targeting more diverse groups was needed to make the government’s advertising “reach and resonate with people”.

”People want to see someone who is 50 and has diabetes talking about why they decided to get it – real people talking about the side effects, instead of a few politicians getting the jab on TV.“

Both researchers said that the government should leverage the current Victorian outbreak to ramp up vaccination campaigns, pointing to research showing that people’s willingness to vaccinate rose with increased perception of illness risks.

“If people perceive the risk of the disease as immediate, they are much more likely to weigh up the risk of that against the risk of the vaccine. We can capitalise on this to remind people what lockdown is like and how hard it is and how tough it is for kids,” Ms Kaufman said.

Professor McCaffery added: “We should take advantage of this opportunity to remind people that we cannot take things for granted, that COVID-19 can take off at any time and take us back to lockdown … It is hard to understand why we are not doing this.”

The federal government has secured access to 20 million Pfizer and 25 million Moderna shots – though most will not arrive until later in the year – suggesting they could meet increased inoculation demand.

Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt did not respond to a request for comment on his government’s vaccine awareness plan by deadline.

More outbreaks, strains

Epidemiologists also pushed for Australians to use the Victorian outbreak as incentive to get jabbed, warning that the cost of continued vaccine distrust would be more cases, lockdowns and new virus strains.

“To avoid future lockdowns we need to roll out the vaccine on a large scale,” head of the La Trobe University viral and structural immunology lab Stephanie Grass said.

“To help break the transmission chain of the virus we need more than lockdown and quarantine, as neither of those are protecting, or are perfect, despite much efforts put towards them.”

She said that this was especially important given the speed with which the new Indian virus strain spreads, and the fact that the vaccines available in Australia – Pfizer and AstraZeneca – have been proven to have a strong efficacy against it.

The University of Queensland’s professor of microbiology Ian Henderson warned that widespread vaccination was needed to control COVID-19 before new, vaccine-resistant mutations had the chance to develop.

”Currently, we are conducting the world’s largest virus evolution experiment; we are selecting for viruses that are easier to transmit and unfortunately for viruses that may escape our current vaccines,” he said.

“It is essential that we move to vaccinate the population as quickly as possible to offer the greatest chance of eradicating this virus and to drive a return to normalcy.”



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