To be or not to be vaccinated: expert advice for practices on COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

by | Coronavirus - COVID-19, Coronavirus - Vaccinations, Immunity


With up to 30% of Australians indicating that they won’t be getting the COVID-19 vaccination, what can we do to address vaccine hesitancy and achieve herd immunity?

University of Sydney social scientist, Professor Julie Leask in a recent interview said that vaccine hesitancy was not only very real, it was easy to understand.

“It’s really an issue of how we process and make decisions about risk,” Professor Leask explained.

Vaccines, as most people know, will bring very rare but some serious side effects, like any medicine can.

“So, we’re looking at this at the moment, as a society, and thinking, ‘Wow, there is a risk here’, but also there are benefits here for ourselves, our family and as a society.”

Professor Leask said it was unusual for us to be forced to assess risk in such a conscious way, and the focus on vaccination only heightened the stakes.

“Because we’re so focused on vaccination, and there’s so much promise in them, it’s not surprising that when a rare serious event (such as blood clotting) occurs, there’s so much focus on that as well,” she said.

Associate Professor Margie Danchin, an immunisation researcher with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute believes GPs will play a crucial role in helping people who are hesitant about the vaccine to feel more comfortable about getting the jab.

“Engagement with their health care provider (such as their GP) is the most likely point of contact where a hesitant person may change their mind.

“If there is trust and there’s rapport, hearing and listening, then you are in a much better position to communicate information and a chance to change their minds,” she said.

Professor Danchin said if someone was in a heightened state of “fight or flight” they would have their defences up and would not be receptive to receiving factual information. If they feel open and listened to, they can relax and absorb the information.

“That’s going to be critical for the COVID vaccine, that people can discuss this with a trusted health care provider, that there’s information and transparency,” Professor Danchin added.

Some suggestions on how to speak with vaccine hesitant patients:

  • Spend adequate time with the patient, asking permission to discuss their concerns
  • Try to carefully elicit the vaccine concerns using a shared-decision making approach or guiding style where there is an open discussion of the patients’ questions and concerns
  • Patients are more often focused on vaccine risk, but try to discuss vaccine benefit and disease risks as well
  • Using clear resources to support the discussion can be very helpful 

Experts are also calling on the Federal Government to consider rolling out a national advertising campaign similar to some overseas campaigns, that mostly focus on what you gain from being vaccinated, rather than what you lose from not being vaccinated.