Tackling Vaccine Complacency Close to Home


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For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to nudge my parents into getting the vaccine. They’ve been eligible since the beginning of May and can book an appointment through their G.P. whenever they want. They’re going to get it. They’ve just been putting it off.

I’ve been hugely frustrated at the slow pace of Australia’s vaccine rollout, especially watching from Melbourne, where we are just coming out of a two-week lockdown that might not have been necessary if more people had been inoculated.

Damien, our bureau chief, is working on a big-picture article about how Australia and Asia, so successful in the early containment of the virus, are now lagging behind in their vaccine rollouts and facing months more of isolation and uncertainty. (Look out for that in the coming days.)

On a micro level, I think my parents — and a seemingly sizable number of Australians who have a similar mentality — are another element of the story: people who have no issues with vaccines, but due to complacency and the perception that we’re more or less safe from the virus here in our island fortress, have little incentive to get vaccinated.

My parents are pro-vaccine, well-educated and well-informed. The latter might be part of the issue — they became eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine not long after the government’s memorable late-night news conference in which it announced that the vaccine, because of extremely rare cases of blood clots, was no longer recommended for people under 50, and consumed a lot of the subsequent breathless media coverage.

They also live in Sydney, where there hasn’t been a serious outbreak since December and where the coronavirus feels continents, or at least states, away. “We’re not at much risk anyway,” my dad said back in early May. “There are people who need it more right now, we’ll let them go first.”

I have to admit that complacency also crept into my own thinking. When my parents told me they were going to wait, I pretty much went: I’ll deal with this later. I’d talk to them about it, but I needed to mentally prepare myself for what might be a very long conversation, so I’d do it when I have the time and energy.

And while I knew very well that the risks from the vaccine were tiny, it’s different in practice when it’s people you care about. What if I pushed them into getting it and then something happened? I could have this conversation with them any time. It didn’t have to be right now, since there was no immediate risk anyway.

Then, of course, Melbourne had another outbreak and the prospect of weeks in lockdown kicked me right out of my complacency.

The one good thing about lockdown is that it’s a great talking point: “This could happen in Sydney at any time! We’re not free of the virus yet! Don’t you want me to visit you? I can’t do that if we keep having lockdowns!”

But even now, that sense of urgency doesn’t seem to have hit. They haven’t seen any great push from the government for people to get inoculated. It’s not as if the outbreak in Victoria has affected them on any practical level (they’ve been sending me photos of them going hiking with friends, which in locked-down Melbourne I couldn’t help but be slightly resentful of). In Sydney, which has been pretty successful at containing the virus without imposing lockdown-level restrictions, the risk of another outbreak still doesn’t seem to outweigh the miniscule risk of the vaccine.

They’re coming around to it. They understand that it takes weeks between doses, which means it makes no sense to get it only when there’s the risk of an outbreak in Sydney. And more people they know are now getting inoculated.

This week, they’ve finally said they’ll make an appointment to get vaccinated. It doesn’t mean they’ll do it immediately, and it’s possible they were just saying it to appease me, but still, I’m counting it as progress.

How do you feel about the progress of Australia’s vaccine rollout? Write to us at nytaustralia@nytimes.com.

Now for this week’s stories:




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