Des Gorman: Ease up on the Covid fear-mongering – it is not helpful


In the middle of Auckland’s longest lockdown, and as all of us try to normalise this abnormality and control our anxieties and other emotions, we are increasingly being bombarded by a battery of fear-mongering.

The latter is clearly well-intentioned and designed to increase vaccination uptake.

However, the reason why two-thirds of us are not fully vaccinated is not because of a lack of desire, but is due to the historical shortfall in vaccine availability.

It surprises me that some of our public health experts and computer modellers seem to know so little about human behaviour.

Fear is certainly one way to motivate behaviour, but history shows that this is not sustainable and often has perverse outcomes.

Covid, and consequential multiple lockdowns, have already had a very significant toll on our mental and physical health.

Fear-mongering is the last thing many people need who are struggling at home with young families, concerns about their jobs or businesses, and confronted with educational obligations to their children – and who have been anxiously waiting to be able to be vaccinated for many months.

Is it likely that Armageddon-like projections of Covid related deaths once we reintegrate with the world again will encourage vaccine deniers to become vaccinated?

I suggest the opposite is more likely – certainly those that believe the vaccination programme is a dangerous conspiracy involving Government and the pharmaceutical companies, will see such projections as confirming their deepest fears about the intentions of the state.

Similarly, are these projections likely to help those who are vaccine hesitant to overcome their hesitancy? In my experience, this latter group of people have genuine and well-based concerns about vaccines. It is also my experience that given the opportunity for a discussion with someone that they trust about the nature of those concerns, that the vast majority go from being vaccine hesitant to being vaccine receptive.

So, please ease up on the Covid fear-mongering; it is not helpful.

Instead, there are much better ways to maximise the vaccination status of our population,
now and in the future as booster programmes become necessary.

Instead, let’s see a programme based on accessibility – with special emphasis here on using community groups for Māori and Pacifica, and on access for the vaccine hesitant to people who they trust for one-on-one discussions about the bases of their hesitancy – which in most cases will mean their family doctors.

Let’s see a programme that prioritises the vulnerable, essential workers and the younger people in our society who are the most potent vectors of the disease.

The approach for each of these groups needs to be different and should vary from primary care providers and networks, to government-industry agreements for employers, and to using universities, technical training institutes, schools, churches, and so on.

Let’s see a programme that uses the extraordinary logistical and supply-chain expertise that exist in companies such as Mainfreight, Freightways, Woolworths and Foodstuffs.

And, importantly, let’s see a programme that is affirmative and encouraging, where vaccination results in discrete and valuable rewards, which will be primarily manifest as social mobility and access.

• Des Gorman is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at The University of Auckland.

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