The Government needs a two-pronged communications strategy for a Covid-19 vaccine, to tackle disinformation and win over people who have concerns and questions, according to Fine Gael Senator John McGahon.
“There has been a substantial growth in anti-science rhetoric, a lot of that is being fuelled by online conspiracy theorists, fake news, disinformation. I think our communication strategy needs to deal with this," he said.
Ireland has signed up to the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccinations, with both companies looking for European authorisation in the next few weeks.
With this in mind, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has suggested vaccine rollout in Ireland could occur as soon as January.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of an 'infodemic' of vaccine misinformation as early as February and concerns have been raised about misinformation in Ireland.
Senator McGahon told BreakingNews.ie that a “clear and concise” Government communication strategy would be required, adding: “I think that's paramount to overcoming vaccine scepticism”.
“We need a simple and explanatory manner that is based on qualitative data and cold, hard facts. I think it's perfectly reasonable to at least have questions about the vaccine.
“The Government needs to have a strategy for anyone who is on the fence or concerned about it [a vaccine] so it can be explained with cold hard facts.”
Mr McGahon said reassuring people who have genuine concerns or questions about the vaccine with science and facts would be the key to a large take-up among the general population.
“We need to completely and utterly reassure anyone who is sceptical about a vaccine and the way to do that is to reassure people with a communication strategy based on science, fact and reason.
“It will require a lot of planning and real implementation over a sustained period but that's how I would look at it.”
The Government's vaccination taskforce met again today to discuss the rollout of a Covid vaccine.
Its strategy is due to be put to Cabinet on December 11th and Mr McGahon said a communications strategy should be ready to go at the same time.
“The Government is due to put the rollout strategy to Cabinet on December 11th. I think it should be announced side by side with the communications strategy, a two-pronged approach.
“A lot of responsibility needs to be taken by social media companies as well. We need 80-85 per cent of the population to take the vaccine and social media companies shouldn't allow clearly misleading information to remain online, it spreads like wildfire.”
He feels the onus to get information about the vaccine to the public should be on Government and other groups within society.
“The onus is on huge strands of Irish society, not just the Government. It's people in influential positions in the media, sport, academia, wherever it is. It has to be a joint effort right across Irish society, a top-down approach.
“Anti-vaccine rhetoric had been brewing under the surface long before Covid even came along. I think Covid has given a small platform for anti-vaxxers, for want of a better word, to get their anti-science, anti-data message out there. What we really need to do is take that on in the most robust manner possible.
“A pro-science approach that's grounded in hard facts, data and reason. I really believe that the vast majority of people who have genuine concerns will be completely reassured.”