Covid-19 vaccine: ‘Comprehensive’ plan to combat anti-vax campaign

Communications strategy will deal with people’s ‘fears, concerns’ Minister pledges

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly. Photograph: Laura Hutton

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly. Photograph: Laura Hutton

 

A “comprehensive” communications plan is being prepared for the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine which will deal with people’s fears and concerns about the jab, the Dáil has been told.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly highlighted the State’s success at dealing with a previous anti-vaccination campaign on the HPV (humanpapillomavirus) jab, which offers protection against a number of disease including cervical cancer.

He said a “lot of work” is going on in the Department of Health and across Government on a communications strategy.

“It is about listening to people’s concerns and taking them seriously. It is also about providing the medical and scientific experts to engage with people and address their concerns.”

Mr Donnelly was responding during health questions to People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny who said that one of the “enormous challenges” in the roll-out of the inoculation campaign is the fear people may have about the vaccine. “There are people in society who will seek to stoke up that fear,” he warned.

The Minister said Ireland has a very good track record on vaccination programmes but acknowledged the problems and said the HPV vaccine had an 80 per cent uptake until the “anti-vaccine movement then rolled into town across Europe”.

‘Misinformation’

He said uptake, “based largely on misinformation”, fell from 80 per cent to 50 per cent.

But he said that “thanks to an enormous effort across Ireland and some notable advocacy, uptake of the HPV vaccine has increased again from 50 per cent to 80 per cent. This will save an awful lot of lives.”

Earlier this week Taoiseach Micheál Martin also warned of the need “to make sure that fake news doesn’t get prevalent or get promoted on various digital platforms”.

He reminded the Dáil about an anti-vaccination campaign during the roll-out of MMR (measles mumps rubella) vaccination, when he was minister for health. He said there was a furore at the time and “huge damage” was done.

“We had to put up with measles outbreaks for two or three years and children being very ill and in some cases lost their lives as a result of that campaign.”

Mr Martin added: “We need to be very strong and positive in support of vaccination to eliminate a virus that has caused such devastation, mayhem and death across the world.

“The whole objective of vaccination historically has been to eliminate such diseases and such viruses.

“And the history of vaccinations has been an extraordinary one, in terms of the 20th century for example, in terms of the transformation in health care and outcomes, which is often forgotten as times move on.

“That which was horrendous in one era becomes commonplace in the next era and of no consequence because of vaccines and medicines generally.”