The Australian government needs to offer lottery tickets and cash as incentives to rapidly increase Covid-19 vaccine uptake, having now waited too long to roll out a hard-hitting awareness campaign, public health and advertising experts say.
The executive creative director and owner of advertising agency Campaign Edge, Dee Madigan, said the ideal time to begin a vaccine campaign would have been earlier this year, when lockdowns were in place and people felt a sense of urgency.
“We missed that window,” Madigan said. “This has been exacerbated by a rollout that has been so slow that people have had to be OK with waiting. Any sense of urgency as an incentive has been lost.”
Singapore released a vaccination ad that went viral for featuring the main character of a popular 1990s sitcom who rapped a vaccination message to a disco theme. New Zealand went for humour, plugging entering a vaccine clinic as the “metaphorical door to freedom”.
Australia’s latest advertisement, uploaded on the federal Department of Health website on Thursday, features basic animations with a voiceover explaining that vaccines are now available for people aged 50 years and over.
“Government ads generally don’t set the world on fire, but the Australian government’s have been particularly bad,” Madigan said.
“It’s understandable that early vaccination ads might have been a bit bland as the government just wanted to get the information out there. In fact they were so boring, no one can remember them. But they have had more than enough time now to come up with something better and more effective.”
However, Madigan said Australia was “beyond humour” as an effective advertising technique.
“The only way to get to people now is through a scare campaign, mentioning somewhere like Singapore that was in a good place and then suddenly ended up back in lockdown. Or the other way to do it is to offer people incentives.
“I would incentivise it by saying every tenth person gets a lotto entry. We need something that’s a little bit extra at the moment, because good behaviour-change campaigns work with a carrot and a stick. The stick is ‘we will all go into lockdown again if we don’t vaccinate’.”
Concerns remain about vaccine hesitancy, and some mass vaccination clinics report that uptake of the vaccine has been slow. On Wednesday, Guardian Australia revealed more than 1.5m Covid-19 vaccines – one in every four distributed – are sitting unused in clinics across the country, prompting calls for a “major campaign” to tackle vaccine hesitancy and revive the country’s immunisation program.
The co-chair of the World Health Organization working group measuring behavioural and social drivers of vaccination, Associate Professor Holly Seale, said incentives in vaccine programs were nothing new.
“They’ve been used in a range of different ways, whether they be a monetary incentive, or whether they be incentives like entry into a competition,” she said. “We need to have the key elements for a successful campaign, like the good communication, the recall of the messaging, and also the nudge element as well that prompts people to get it.
“It might be entry into a lotto. Maybe it’s about getting a lollipop. Or maybe it’s data to show you’re the number one community or suburb in Australia who’s got their vaccine.”
Associate Professor Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases specialist at the Australian National University, also mentioned a lottery approach, adding that he was concerned by ongoing vaccine hesitancy.
“I think there is a big opportunity for election-style ads where both the opposition and the government agree on the same message about vaccines,” he told ABC News.
“And we can be innovative as well. In Ohio, for instance, the governor there has created a lottery, a vaccine lottery. For everyone who has been vaccinated they can enter this lottery and five people will get $1m each.”
A professor of epidemiology at La Trobe University, Hassan Vally, said he receives questions from those who know him in his local community about the vaccine every day, and there remains a lot of confusion and misinformation about efficacy and side-effects.
“Hesitancy and confusion are sure signs we need to be doing more,” he said. “If you’re feeling uncertain and feel there is no immediate threat, then the obvious human reaction is to put things off and delay, to just wait.
“So I think the government does have a very difficult task ahead of them.”