The time for vaccine hesitancy is over, Deakin expert says

June 8, 2021 BY

South Barwon MP Darren Cheeseman (left) shows off his just-vaccinated arm with Barwon Health nurse Simran at the vaccination hub in North Geelong.

The sense of hesitancy in Victorians about getting their coronavirus vaccination has dropped sharply, with tens of thousands rushing to get their first jab since last week’s outbreak in Melbourne and the subsequent May 28 statewide lockdown.

Deakin University’s chair of epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett said the outbreak – which led to the reintroduction of some of Victoria’s toughest restrictions – was “a warning call” and might have been the only thing that would motivate some people to get vaccinated.

“Of course, once it starts like this, you have the exposure before you even know it’s even happened, and you can’t just snap your fingers, get vaccinated and have it all fixed tomorrow; it takes weeks if not months.

“It’s so important that everybody gets in for their first dose and starts the process, otherwise we’ll just stay vulnerable for longer and longer and pay the price.

“If this outbreak in Victoria isn’t the kind of prompt people need to realise the risk in our community, I don’t know what is.”

She said concerns about hesitancy had existed for some time because of the misinformation about vaccines for the COVID-19 virus more broadly.

“It was a different concern in Australia, too, because we didn’t have that drive (to be vaccinated) that comes from knowing people who’ve had serious illness and have lost people and seeing the impacts.

“Too many people did experience that in Victoria, but country-wide, we weren’t anywhere near the same exposure as other countries, so people didn’t have that same fear or motivation.

“In the middle, we had people that were just a bit confused, who just thought ‘I’ll wait until it all settles down’, even when they knew we had empty vaccination hubs.”

Prof. Bennett said the rest of the vaccination rollout needed to be “as smooth as possible”.

“You don’t want to make it confusing, we did want to be strategic and target the most exposed and most vulnerable first, but in the end we’ve got a whole lot of other people that are really eager to have the vaccine who are just waiting.”

Although acknowledging it would have been better to have a steady stream of people getting vaccinated over time at places such as Barwon Health’s hub in North Geelong rather than the sudden influx of the past week, Prof. Bennett said the public’s response in recent days was reassuring.

“It tells us that a lot of people just didn’t get around to it; it was not a definite decision not to,” she said.

“But it’s critical now, because actually deciding not to get your vaccination this week is a decision – it’s not putting off a decision, it’s making a decision because every week counts.

“You can get whatever vaccine you like next year, just get the one you’re eligible for now to at least start that protection process.

“Putting it off means you could be in a vulnerable position yourself down the track and have to spend the next three months navigating your way out of it.”