The federal government’s $41 million (US$ 30.7 million) nationwide “Arm Yourself” campaign, to encourage Australians to get vaccinated with a COVID-19 jab has come under intense criticism after members of the public took to the social media platform Twitter to vent their frustration.
The 30-second commercial, which aired on Sydney television on Sunday, features a young woman on a ventilator struggling to breathe as her heart monitor beeps, with the message: “COVID-19 can affect anyone. Stay home. Get tested. Book your vaccination.”
“This ad should be immediately taken off air,” adjunct professor Bill Bowtell wrote in a post on Twitter. Bowtell is a strategic health consultant at the University of NSW and worked on the now famous 1987 Grim Reaper HIV/AIDS campaign in Australia.
“Today in Sydney, a young girl with COVID—about the same age as the actor in the ad—is on a ventilator fighting for her life. This insensitive ad can only distress her family and friends. It is misconceived in every way,” Professor Bowtell wrote.
Health workers who work with patients in intensive care units (ICU) have also said the images shown inaccurately portray how patients would be treated in ICU.
“My ICU and respiratory colleagues would not let someone suffer like that before they intervened,” said Dr. Sonia Fullerton, a Melbourne-based palliative care physician, in another post on Twitter.
Others questioned whether the government should get involved in people’s medical decisions in the first place, considering rising concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine’s blood clots. At the same time, others criticised the commercial’s push for people to get vaccinated, despite the fact that most people under-40s aren’t yet eligible for the preferred vaccine Pfizer.
One such commentator was Jill Stark, a former The Sunday Age senior writer, who wrote in a post on Twitter she was upset over the advertisement because it utilised a young person who cannot receive a vaccination yet under the government’s rollout.
“This is so messed up. Why would you use a young person in your scary ad warning them they could get seriously ill with COVID when young people currently can’t get vaccinated because your own government has monumentally botched the vaccine rollout? ” said Stark.
Entrepreneur coach Siimon Reynolds told the Financial Review, the “Arm Yourself” commercial says “nothing more than ‘get vaccinated'” and did not provide reasons as to why people should.
“The commercial fails to get to the heart of any of the reasons that many Australians have for not getting vaccinated,” he said, “The government is doing its best to send a clear message out, but its advertising agencies need to respond to the government’s brief with much more effective communications.”
However, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly defended the ad, saying the fear-driven message is meant to shock people into getting the vaccines.
“We are only doing this because of the situation in Sydney,” he said.
“The messages will be clear: stay-at-home, get tested and book in for a vaccination,” he said, “it is quite graphic, and it is meant to be graphic; it is meant to really push that message home that is important.”
Vaccine taskforce head Lieutenant-General John Frewen agreed.
He admitted the ad is “aggressive and confronting.” But he said it was aimed to “help people understand the very dire consequences of COVID and bring a sense of urgency” to vaccination and stay-home orders.
The Morrison government, which has been criticised for the low vaccine supply, promised more Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would be arriving from overseas in the upcoming months.