Data on vaccine hesitancy could be missing the vital perspective of rural and regional Australians, according to a leading expert.
The Australian government's largely fact-based advertising campaign for the COVID-19 jab is missing the mark, and needs to appeal more to people's emotions, a paper written by 12 vaccine experts in the Medical Journal of Australia says.
Polling out this week showed only two out of three Australians were certain they would get the COVID-19 jab, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended the advertising campaign so far, saying even countries with 60 per cent vaccine coverage were lowering the incidence of disease.
Associate Professor Holly Seale, one of the co-authors of the paper with expertise in perceptions and behaviours regarding infectious diseases, including immunisation, is concerned existing studies aren't giving the full picture on vaccine hesitancy.
"We may be hearing great things and hearing more from the capital cities as opposed to ... our regional and remote areas," she said.
"These polls are done with mainstream community members who have the means and capacity and time to do an online newspaper poll. That's not everybody. People who have lower literacy levels, or access issues, will never be captured in those kinds of polls."
She said there had been "very little work" to understand how groups, such as homeless or disabled people, would get access to vaccines.
Along with her co-authors, Associate Professor Seale called on the government to overhaul its vaccine advertising campaign to appeal to people's emotions, rather than simply telling them information about the vaccine.
"We're failing to bring in those elements about what's it all going to mean, once we do get these vaccine levels up," she said.
Transparency and balance were key, she said, to convince unsure people.
"Having information about the vaccine will not be enough to nudge people over if they are sitting on the fence. They may need more information than the vaccine is available, but also information about what is the value to them right now, what is the value to the community."
Eleven recommendations to fix the vaccine communication campaign were set out in the paper from the Collaboration on Social Science in Immunisation.
Among them were to use clear, actionable messages, avoid over-reassurance and to identify key groups to target communication.
"We need to remain balanced, not over-sell things. If we oversell then people are not going to trust and they'll think that we're spruiking something that's not right," Associate Professor Seale said.
The Australian Medical Association has called for a more effective national strategy, with deputy president Chris Moy labelling Australians sitting ducks while vaccine numbers stay low.
He wants to convince people to roll up their sleeves by promoting the benefits.
"At the moment, given we have no COVID and we are living in this really gilded cage, people do not perceive a risk," Dr Moy told ABC radio.
"Seeing for example what is happening overseas where there is a tsunami of COVID and also the development of variants, we are sitting ducks until we get a significant proportion of the population vaccinated."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said more communication for elderly Australians would be rolled out in the coming weeks as part of the $40 million spent on advertising vaccines.
He said the government's focus was on the 65 per cent of the population who were happy to get inoculated.
"We'll continue to have the conversation with the rest of the population about their concerns they may have and the best place to have that discussion is with your GP," he said.
"There is more communications going into the elderly population and you'll see that roll out in the weeks ahead."
Mr Morrison zeroed in on concerns about the AstraZeneca jab, saying it had been safely administered to his wife, mother, mother-in-law, the health minister and department secretary.
"This is a safe vaccine."
Associate Professor Seale said "the time is now" to change the approach to tackle misinformation, as well as focus on providing the facts.
"We have got low levels of COVID transmitting. So you've got community members who really may not see the need right now to get vaccinated and really that sentiment where it's okay to watch and wait," she said.
Deakin University epidemiology chair Catherine Bennett said hesitancy would decline as the inoculation numbers climb, normalising the jab.
"The more people who know someone who was vaccinated and is fine, the less they will hesitate themselves," she said.
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