Misinformation and lack of government action drives mandatory vaccination

Researchers from The University of Western Australia have highlighted a link between lack of positive public information about vaccination from governments and the adoption of mandatory vaccination policies.

The researchers analysed the poor uptake of childhood vaccinations in Italy before they became mandatory and why governments failed to act to address poor public opinion on vaccination. The research, published in Policy Sciences has clear lessons for Australia according to lead researcher Dr Katie Attwell.

In the face of numerous vaccination scares, information flow from the Italian government to the community was slow and at times lacking, giving rise to misinformation and increasing anxiety in the community.

Dr Attwell from UWA’s School of Social Sciences said this was amplified by sensationalist news and inaccurate sources of information causing concern in the community.

“The Italian government assumed people would vaccinate under a voluntary vaccination policy, but did not implement the right communication to address people’s fears,” Dr Attwell said.

“When it comes to COVID-19 in Australia, the Italian study highlights that accurate and timely information is critical in a crisis to offer comfort and aid public compliance with government policy,” Dr Attwell said. “If you’re not leading the conversation then those who oppose vaccination will take the lead.”

Dr Attwell said there were two methods of governing for vaccination compliance – discipline, where public institutions act as sources of information and support to instil favourable attitudes and practices in the community, and modulation, where public institutions are used as a form of control.

“The Italian government ineffectively employed discipline for years and lost control over the information environment,” she said. “Instead of employing communication to reassure a hesitant population, it focused on systemic and delivery issues, until it was too late to do anything except exclude unvaccinated children from public institutions.

“Australia uses discipline and mandatory vaccinations in the childhood setting. For COVID-19, we only use discipline. This research shows that we have to get our messaging right, first time, every time. One of our interviewees described it like a chorus, where all the institutions sing together.”

A study led by Dr Attwell through UWA’s Coronavax project, a joint initiative with Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at Telethon Kids Institute, is seeking to speak to key groups central to understanding community attitudes to COVID vaccines. They are keen to hear from pharmacists, aged care workers, people in the regions, and parents of young children who can participate in the study through the Coronavax website.

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