A medical research group has urged the government to improve access to vaccine information after it was revealed more than a fifth of Melburnians who inject drugs don’t want the Covid-19 jab because of “safety concerns”.
The study, led by the Burnet Institute, surveyed attitudes towards the vaccine and while 58 per cent of respondents said they would definitely or probably be vaccinated, lead author Professor Paul Dietze said he was concerned by the large portion of those unwilling or undecided.
More than 20 per cent said they would not get the jab and the remaining 20 per cent said they were undecided.
“Among those who indicated they would definitely or probably not be vaccinated or were undecided, safety concerns were most often cited as a reason for not wanting to be vaccinated,” the study found.
Professor Dietze said the vaccine reluctance among this cohort was particularly concerning, given the vulnerability of this cohort ahead of interstate borders reopening before Christmas.
“A lot of people in this community are homeless or come from disadvantaged backgrounds and we know that those people are at high risk,” he told NCA NewsWire.
“They also smoke quite a lot and people who smoke are also at higher risk, so getting these people vaccinated is a real priority.”
The lead author urged health authorities to be active in communicating the safety of the vaccines and the risks associated with contracting Covid-19.
He said it was critical to focus health campaigns beyond traditional media, given the frequency of homelessness among those who inject drugs.
“It’s a smaller population, so as a consequence, peer-based organisations are really well positioned to be accessing these people and some of the key services who work with them,” Prof Dietze said.
“So people working with needle and syringe programs, for example, are in a good position to try and work to alleviate any concerns that people might have with vaccines.”
The researcher rejected the notion these views were contradictory, despite the groups’ habit of injecting harmful and dangerous drugs.
“It’s a matter of shifting attitudes,” the professor said.
“The best way to do that is through structured work from organisations, because people who use drugs and inject drugs are the ones who can properly inform people and other people from the community about the safety from their perspective.”
Data from the survey, published in the Drug and Alcohol Review, was collected at the end of 2020; Prof Dietze was hopeful the devastation of the Delta outbreaks in recent months may have seduced many into being more accepting of vaccines.
“Importantly, we need to monitor uptake itself, which is much more important than intention,” he said.
“One of the things we know is that while intention might reflect a range of different things, when push comes to shove, people might still get the vaccine.
“There’s lots of work underway to provide vaccination points people can take advantage of, so we do need to be monitoring how things go.”