It comes as the nation’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout begins, with the most vulnerable groups including front-line healthcare workers starting to receive doses of imported Pfizer vaccines this week.
Australia is taking a “portfolio approach” to vaccinating the nation, with doses set to come from a range of companies including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Novavax should that vaccine be successful.
The many options have prompted community comparisons of the vaccines, with Pfizer’s phase 3 data suggesting 95 per cent effectiveness, while AstraZeneca’s data showed effectiveness of around 70.4 per cent.
Health minister Greg Hunt has been clear that the two vaccines currently approved for use in Australia are both safe and effective, however.
“With both the two initial vaccines, the Pfizer and the AstraZeneca vaccine, the international evidence is that the safety impact for prevention of serious illness, hospitalisation, death has been determined to be up to 100 per cent,” he told the ABC on Sunday.
Australia’s therapeutic goods laws outlaw the direct advertising of prescriptions and vaccines to the public unless for a government-led public health campaign. In other vaccine campaigns like for seasonal influenza, GPs and doctors are able to let the public know when vaccines will be available but are not allowed to promote or advertise a specific brand of manufacturers of a vaccine.
In guidance released this week for COVID-19 vaccines, the regulator warned that any business involved in the rollout of doses must adhere to strict rules about advertising or face fines or court action.
Organisations involved in administering COVID vaccines are not able to create their own advertising and must instead use approved posters and social media materials provided by the government.
They cannot include details that would allow a customer to identify whether the provider is using a certain brand or kind of vaccine, like AstraZeneca or Pfizer. They are also forbidden from making “any comparisons between vaccines”, even if these are supported by evidence.
Providers must not advertise with any “statements or the implication that the vaccine offered is superior to other vaccines (e.g. a statement about the efficacy against a particular strain),” the guidelines say.
Infectious diseases social scientist at the University of New South Wales, Dr Holly Seale, said it was important that Australians saw clear information about where to get vaccinated.
“It comes back to things being clear and consistent,” she said.
As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout matures, brand names of products will likely become less relevant.
“We know when we talk about a flu vaccine, nobody talks specifically about the type of or brand of product,” Dr Seale said.
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Emma reports on healthcare companies for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. She is based in Melbourne.
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