17 Feb 2021

Covid-19 vaccines: Authorities combat misinformation

6:33 pm on 17 February 2021

Health officials believe they will not be able to persuade about 10 percent of the population to get a Covid-19 vaccine.

A health worker prepares an injection of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus at a vaccination centre, set up at the Dubai International Financial Centre.

At the very front of the queue for the Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine roll out this weekend are are cleaners, nurses and security staff from Auckland's Jet Park quarantine hotel. Photo: AFP

A new survey by the Ministry of Health shows the majority of people are keen but there is a group on the fence who are not confident the vaccine is safe.

Border workers will this weekend roll back their sleeves for their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, but the ministry's study showed about a quarter of the rest of the population was not so keen.

Of that group, 16 percent said they would outright refuse.

Auckland University School of Population Health professor Chris Bullen said the group that remained undecided was where health officials would focus.

"There's a group of people in there who might be persuaded otherwise.

"I think we can roughly say there is a sort of a hardcore group of about 10 percent of people who would absolutely not and they may be very hard to persuade.

"But I think the other group of maybe 10 to 15 percent are in that hesitant but persuadable group," Bullen said.

The research showed those most likely to say no would be female, have a lower household income, fewer education qualifications or be a parent with a child at home.

Safety and concerns about side effects were the key reasons for vaccine hesitancy.

Officials believed a lot of that could be attributed to the disinformation swirling on social media - especially for Māori and Pasifika communities.

Director of Pacific Health Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone said they had been tracking social media for a while and could see there was already a level of scepticism - particularly in the Facebook comments section of the 1pm Covid briefing.

"The advice to us is that we need to counter with facts quite quickly, and what we're going to try and do is respond quite quickly by putting facts out on that social media stream.

"That seems to be the place at the moment where people are going. So that's probably going to be our approach."

The study also showed Māori and Pasifika had less confidence in the safety and quality of the vaccine.

Deputy Director-General of Māori Health John Whaanga said they would be working hard to ensure everyone had a chance to get accurate information.

"There will be more than one opportunity to be trying to influence people. It is really important that we don't see, I think, anybody as a lost cause. We're really interested in making sure that we get the best information out.

"It's our intention to take a comprehensive approach and to leave no stone unturned in terms of providing good information and opportunities for people to be vaccinated."

Almost 70 percent of people surveyed said they would get a vaccine that was well tested and approved, with the highest uptake expected to be in those 65 and over.

Ministry of Health chief allied health professions officer Martin Chadwick wanted to remind those who were hesitant that any potential vaccine offered would have to meet Medsafe and New Zealand's safety standards.

"It's our own process that we go through, so it was not simply accepting what we've seen elsewhere in the world.

"It was taking up what we need for Aotearoa New Zealand and to go through our own independent process, so when it comes to giving confidence, there's the assurity that we have gone through our own process to ensure that it is safe and effective within our context."

He said data from the trials, where hundreds of thousands of doses had been administered, showed the most common side effects were a sore shoulder and a mild headache.

Medsafe would continue to watch for any further developments.

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