Aged care advocates have warned that media reporting about the suspension of the AstraZeneca rollout in Europe is causing increased hesitancy in aged care facilities, and must be counterbalanced by clear and firm expert messaging.
The European medicines regulator on Friday announced that the AstraZeneca jabs were “safe and effective”, with no clear link to blood clotting after a number of European countries, including Italy, France and Germany, briefly suspended its use.
But reporting of the European suspensions – which were based on an extremely low incidence of blood clotting among the millions of AstraZeneca jab recipients – has caused some concern among those working in Australian aged care.
Older Australians in aged care facilities are receiving the Pfizer vaccine. Regardless, Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia’s chief executive Geoff Rowe said the reporting about the AstraZeneca suspensions was having an impact on the aged care vaccine rollout.
“The calls are changing from ‘we’re OK with this’ to, ‘Oh, we’re a bit concerned about the AstraZeneca rollout overseas and the news there, so we’re quite fearful of now being vaccinated,’” Rowe told Guardian Australia.
“That’s the last couple of days as that issue has hit the media.”
Rowe said it was hard to tell how widespread the view was. “Certainly, when I was speaking to my Victorian colleagues, they were saying in the last few days that the calls had changed from people being happy, to people being concerned.
“Is that a big number? Possibly not, but they’re certainly not getting the 100% strike rate.”
The government has taken some steps to addressing vaccine hesitancy in the broader public, particularly in younger women, aged 25 to 45, which it sees as a particularly hesitant cohort. But obtaining informed consent in aged care facilities is a challenge.
Rowe said he was concerned by reports that non-English language and Auslan interpreters were not being deployed alongside vaccination teams to aged care facilities.
The influence of families’ views on aged care residents also complicated the issue of obtaining informed consent, he said.
It was critical to provide information in a digestible format, presented in a way that counteracted media reporting of the AstraZeneca suspensions abroad. “Clearly people are getting messaging from the media,” he said. “That messaging needs to be counterbalanced by messaging from experts regarding what is the real risk.”
The first week of the aged care rollout was undermined more generally by cancellations, insufficient notice and the tight timeframes required to get the consent required from residents.
But advocates and industry groups say those problems, while not completely eliminated, have subsided as the rollout has progressed.
Leading Aged Services Australia, an aged care industry body, said the rollout was a “significant and challenging logistical undertaking” which did cause disappointment and frustration for a number of residents and facilities.