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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

To mandate, or not to mandate? New Western Australian study provides a fresh new insight into public opinion on COVID-19 vaccination policies.

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COVID-19 vaccine mandates: it’s an issue that has, at times, caused fiery discord within the aged care sector.

And it is a policy area that has fascinated researchers at the University of Western Australia (UWA) who, in a new study published in the journal Vaccine, examined public attitudes to the policy.

Study participants were recruited from three broad categories within the Western Australian population: older people over 65 years of age, younger adults aged 18–29 years, and health and aged-care workers.

Participants were found to broadly supportive of Australian governments making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory, but there was nuance and some opposition observed.

Whilst a quarter were vehement in their support, saying “I think it should be totally compulsory”, approximately half had nuanced, moderately supportive, or uncertain attitudes.

“Opponents were not against vaccination but were concerned that mandates might generate opposition or punish those who are economically vulnerable,” noted Dr Marco Rizzi, co-author of the paper and senior lecturer at UWA Law School.

Associate professor Katie Atwell, lead researcher and co-author of the study, tells Aged Care News that for those who agreed with the mandates, protecting older Australians was a strong rationale.  

“A large number of our participants discussed protecting older people and vulnerable people as reasons that vaccinations should be mandatory,” she says.

“It was often the example they reached for.”

Whilst aged care workers across the country are required to be vaccinated to attend work, there is no equivalent mandate in place for visitors.

Atwell says that whilst her research didn’t directly ask participants their thoughts on this, sentiment would suggest it may be a favourably viewed next step.  

“While our participants didn’t necessarily go so far as saying ‘visitors to nursing homes should be vaccinated’, they often talked about workers in such settings needing to be in order to protect the vulnerable,” Atwell says.

“So I think it would be implicit that they would also want visitors to be vaccinated for the same reasons.”

Atwell adds the generally high level of support for mandates in the study echoed some work she conducted earlier in the pandemic with a different team, which found more Australians were supportive of mandates at that time than intended to be vaccinated themselves.

“As a country and as a state, we are now used to being heavily governed in order to limit the spread of disease,” she said.

“No Jab, No Pay and No Jab, No Play policies for childhood vaccination have been popularly supported prior to COVID.

“I was not surprised by our results that people would envisage these kinds of policies operating for adults with regard to COVID-19.”

The Coronavax study was led by a research team from VaxPolLab at UWA and the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at Telethon Kids Institute.

The team is now conducting a new analysis of attitudes towards mandates since June 2021, when the current paper was submitted.

Atwell tells Aged Care News that her team are pursuing further analysis of vaccination policies targeting older people and those working in aged care.

Latest federal health department data shows that as of December 7, 88.5 per cent of people over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated, with 93 per cent of the eligible population having received one dose.

99.4 per cent of aged care workers, and just under 90 per cent of aged care residents, are fully vaccinated, with many now receiving their third, booster dose.

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