20 Jan 2021

How the government can convince doubters to get a Covid-19 vaccine

9:28 am on 20 January 2021

The government is being told it has some work on its hands to reach the one in four people who say they don't intend to get a Covid-19 vaccine.

Photo dated December 9, 2020 courtesy of Mount Sinai Health System in New York shows a lab technician during a dry run at Mount Sinai hospital ahead of an expected Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shipment over the weekend. -

A lab technician during a dry run ahead of a Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine shipment in the US (file image). Photo: AFP

Experts say the government will need to use trusted leaders in different communities to reach vaccine sceptics, and a failure to do so will worsen health inequities.

The government's information campaign about the vaccine is crucial - especially with misinformation to contend with - when considering the importance of a vaccination to dealing with the pandemic.

Otago University associate professor Dr Sue Crengle, one of the leaders of Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, the National Māori Pandemic Group, said a government campaign would need to get a bit creative and not be seen as coming only from the state.

"It needs to be fronted by people that the community trust. That might not be people from the Ministry of Health," Crengle said.

Reaching people with effective and trusted information was of huge importance in the long run, she said.

Some Māori would be more open to listening to others, she added.

"We need some Māori health figures to do that, people of different ages and genders, celebrities saying 'I've got my vaccine, I'm encouraging my [whānau] and I'm going with them'...

"It's absolutely imperative that we get equitable Māori vaccinations... If the border's opened up and if we then get community spread then we're going to have terrible inequitable outcomes because of the inequities in vaccine coverage... We absolutely cannot do that."

One in four say they won't be vaccinated

Across society the Ministry of Health will have some convincing to do. A Massey University survey of 1000 people in August found one in four people did not intend to get the vaccine.

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Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw. Photo: supplied

A health psychologist and researcher with The Workshop, Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw, thought the country only had a small number of people who were firm vaccine refusers.

Far more were probably just a little uncertain about it, she said.

"It's important to focus on those people who are likely to maybe have a few concerns, some hesitancy about vaccinations, but aren't in that group of people who are absolutely adamant that they're [opposed] to getting a vaccine."

And that was who the information campaign should focus on - those who could go either way.

"Those people might be persuaded potentially by false information, but equally they can be persuaded by good information, by scientifically-based information as well," Berentson-Shaw said.

"It's really good to acknowledge that uncertainty is normal. I think turning uncertainty into some abnormal or extreme response is really unhelpful."

Like Crengle, Berentson-Shaw too said central government communication about the vaccine would only be effective for some groups of people.

"Within more vulnerable communities, there's a real need for the government to devolve some of their communication strategies - so for Māori communities, Pasifika, disabled people, it's important for the government to think about how they can actually let those communities communicate themselves, because within their own communities they know who the trusted people are."

Berentson-Shaw said New Zealanders had repeatedly done the right thing for others during the Covid-19 pandemic, and expected people would generally be positive about getting a vaccine when they arrived in the next few months.

Vaccine hesitant need good information - Bloomfield

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said officials will be working hard to convince people to get a Covid-19 vaccine once it had been cleared safe and effective by Medsafe.

"There will be some people who will be hesitant about having the vaccine so we will be putting a lot of effort into ensuring they have really good, accurate information about the vaccine," he told Morning Report.

"They, like me, will want to know that it is safe and effective and that the process that Medsafe is using to assess all the vaccines is very robust and thorough and that it won't be approved until Medsafe is sure it is safe and effective. That work's really well under way."

The director-general said about 70 percent of people would need to be vaccinated to achieve national herd immunity to the virus, but he would like higher numbers than that.

Bloomfield said border restrictions could only be eased once mass vaccinations had taken place.

"We will certainly need to have a good proportion of the population vaccinated before we start to lift border restrictions."

"The first approach is to establish those safe travel zones and Australia is one we're working very hard on.

"But it really will be later in the year once we have got a high proportion of the population vaccinated before we can contemplate further lifting of those border restrictions more widely."

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