Calls for messaging to undo harmful impact of Astra Zeneca reports

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Millions of Australians are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine from today, with 1000 GP clinics starting phase 1B vaccinations for vulnerable members of the community.

Australians over 70, critical workers, Indigenous people over 55 and people with particular medical conditions are now eligible to receive vaccines.

As to where you can receive your fist jab, that remains a little confusing.

While the government’s COVID-19 vaccination booking website is the primary source of information on jab sites, it has been doling out some misleading information.

The website has told some regional Australians to travel hundreds of kilometres, in some cases across state borders, despite much closer options expected to be available within weeks, according to Guardian Australia.

The government’s COVID-19 vaccine booking website is designed to link eligible 1B recipients with nearby participating clinics.

Read more: COVID vaccine available to all Australians aged 70 or over via GPs

However, the website has told “huge volumes” of people they would have to travel vast distances to receive a vaccination now, instead of telling them to wait for one of the thousands of vaccination clinics that will open within weeks.

It is believed the government is currently working on improving communication about the vaccine’s availability in rural areas

As far as communication goes, the media is being keelhauled over its reporting of the negative effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with aged care advocates calling for action to undo the impact of such reports.

Aged care advocates have warned that media reporting of the suspension of the AstraZeneca rollout in Europe is causing hesitancy in aged care facilities amid the rollout of the Pfizer injection.

They’re calling for clear expert messaging to stop the Australian rollout stalling.

Reports of blood clotting occurrences in some European countries have been overblown, say European regulators, with a recent report finding that the AstraZeneca jabs were “safe and effective” and had no clear link to blood clotting.

Read more: More European nations suspend AstraZeneca vaccinations

The European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) preliminary review revealed that the overall risk of clotting in people who had been vaccinated was on par with the general population.

The benefits of the vaccine “still outweigh the risks”, say the regulators.

However, the EMA would not rule out a potential link with rare clots associated with low blood platelets.

These rare clots occurred in women under 55, which is group typically not at a high risk of clotting.

University of Adelaide associate professor in virology Farhid Hemmatzadeh stands behind the AstraZeneca option, saying it’s the best option of all the vaccines.

“The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is the safest vaccine that exists in the vaccine list,” he told the ABC.

Older Australians in aged care facilities are receiving the Pfizer vaccine, but media reporting of the AstraZeneca ramifications has older people on edge, says Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia chief Geoff Rowe.

“The calls are changing from ‘We’re okay with this’ to, ‘Oh, we’re a bit concerned about the AstraZeneca rollout overseas and the news there, so we’re quite fearful of now being vaccinated,'” Mr Rowe told Guardian Australia.

“Certainly, when I was speaking to my Victorian colleagues, they were saying in the last few days that the calls had changed from people being happy to people being concerned.

“Is that a big number? Possibly not, but they’re certainly not getting the 100 per cent strike rate.”

Mr Rowe has called for easily digestible information from experts, not reporters, to counteract the psychological effect here of AstraZeneca suspensions abroad.

“Clearly, people are getting messaging from the media,” he said.

“That messaging needs to be counterbalanced by messaging from experts regarding what is the real risk.”

The first week of the aged care rollout had its share of setbacks, but they were caused more by cancellations, insufficient notice and the tight timeframes required to get the consent required from residents.

Read more: Vaccinations behind schedule, yet Aussies implored to ‘take a holiday’

Advocates and industry groups are confident those problems will dissipate as the rollout progresses.

“We were onto the government by Wednesday of that first week with concerns that were being raised with us by our members,” said Leading Aged Services Australia chief Sean Rooney.

“Fair play to the government, they were very responsive, and we were able to convene a discussion very quickly with aged care operators, alongside all the other organisations involved in the rollout. From that point forward, we’ve seen a lot better outcomes in terms of overcoming some of those logistical issues.”

Asked whether he had noticed any increased hesitancy among aged care residents to the vaccine, Mr Rooney said he had not.

“First of all, the residents are not receiving the AstraZeneca vaccination, it’s the Pfizer vaccination for residents. What I’m hearing is very high levels of residents’ consent to the Pfizer vaccination.”

Have the media reports of the AstraZeneca vaccine put you off getting your jab?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?

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