Main Image

23 June 2021

The race to get the world vaccinated against COVID-19 is our greatest public health challenge.

There is no clear roadmap out of the pandemic yet, but medical and public health experts have told us to get vaccinated and there's no arguing with that from where I sit.

So, when the going gets tough, governments need to bring out the big guns and that's what almost every comparable government has done to encourage people to get vaccinated except Australia.

The British Government rolled out Sir Elton John, Sir Michael Caine and Liz Hurley, among others, to promote the National Health Service's vaccine campaign and encourage Britons to get the jab.

Across the pond in the US, they went arguably one step better, with a video of country diva, and all-round legend, Dolly Parton being vaccinated and singing "Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine ." to the tune of her monster hit Jolene, to bolster the public health effort. 

She also donated $US1 million to COVID-19 vaccine research.

If that doesn't float your boat, some US states have started COVID lotteries to entice citizens to get a vaccine, with million-dollar prizes, college tuition fees and cars all up for grabs.

But Germany may take the cake, with news in the past week it had managed to convince former Baywatch and Knight Rider star and self-described harbinger for democracy David Hasselhoff to appear in a public awareness campaign to boost vaccination numbers.

"The Hoff" may be best known as a 1980s and 1990s TV star, but it is a quirk of history that he also had a rather successful music career in Germany, even being heralded as having a hand in the fall of the Berlin Wall (again, self-described).

"Ich bin ein Berliner!", he exclaimed to half a million Germans, in a leather jacket replete with flashing light bulbs, at a concert at the Brandenburg Gate on New Year's Eve in 1989, a few months before unification.

Other countries took simple and possibly more effective advertising routes, with France pulling at the world's heart strings with an ad showing the City of Love and Light opening up in a post-COVID world, while Singaporeans let their hair down, reviving a version of disco.

In Australia, we are still waiting to see what spin doctor-in-chief Prime Minister Scott Morrison will dish out to encourage us to do our duty and get vaccinated.

So far, it's been more stroll out than rollout.

Vaccine hesitancy is far too high in Australia.

In September last year, the Lancet medical journal published a paper about the intention to vaccinate against COVID-19 in Australia.

It found that just 4.9 per cent of Australians would refuse the COVID-19 vaccine.
At the time, this was considered a low number.

In a national poll published last month, this figure had reportedly grown to a third of all adult Australians saying they were hesitant to get the jab.

That's got to be some kind of public health record for a failure to launch and must be, in all honesty, a terrible statistic for our medical and scientific experts to hear.

The bottom line is, the Morrison Government has let misinformation run rampant.

The mixed messages coming from the top of the Government have muddied the waters to the extent that we have one of the lowest rates of fully vaccinated people among our peers and neighbours.

We need to get our population vaccinated to keep the virus at bay, to protect the vulnerable, to reduce the strain on health systems and to open up to the world again.

As Australia deals with more COVID-19 outbreaks caused by a sub-par quarantine system, the Morrison Government refuses to take ownership of the failed vaccine strategy.

As things stand, Australia has inoculated just 3 per cent of the 25 million population.

Compare this to the UK, where almost half the adult population has had both jabs, followed closely by the US with just under 50 per cent.

It remains to be seen whether "The Hoff" will make the difference for the Germans, but, despite some potential problems with taste, Germany still has more than 30 per cent of its 83 million people vaccinated.

It's time Prime Minister Scott Morrison looked to the stars for some urgent assistance.

A few candidates spring to mind to sell the importance of the vaccine to the Australian public: Warnie, Paul Hogan, Kath & Kim, and Sophie Monk.

It's marketing 101 and it's the dream contract for any advertising firm.

Over to you, ScoMo.

This was first published in The West Australian on Wednesday, 23 June 2021.