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Young Australians feel trapped by this vaccine rollout debacle

A still from the Australian government's vaccine ad. Picture: Supplied
A still from the Australian government's vaccine ad. Picture: Supplied

My first reaction was disbelief.

The young woman gasping for air, clutching at the oxygen support, with the screen fading to black and a foreboding government statement: "COVID-19 can affect anyone."

I was shocked by the absurdity of this advertising strategy, given young people's practical exclusion from the vaccine rollout. The woman could have been my age, 23 - thinking about her future in the last semester of university, living with housemates and constantly on the search for discounts at Woolies. One thing that is conspicuously not on her radar is access to a Pfizer vaccine.

That was when my second reaction set in - this literally could have been me. In a sense, the federal government achieved one of its goals. It certainly gave me a visual sense of what could happen, and freaked me out with how dangerous this virus can be, particularly given the Delta variant's ability to run rampant. The utopia of Canberra's recent one-year anniversary since out last community case had numbed my sense of urgency.

However, like a missed high-five, the government's ad, seemingly targeted at my age group, fails to follow through by offering us a clear direction as to how we can be protected from this virus. Instead, an underlying message comes through; that the quick fix of advertising scare tactics is more of a priority than creating a refined communications and policy agenda tailored to young Australians. As this vaccine rollout slugs along, it feels like we're being yo-yoed between hope and dread.

Let's rewind to the Prime Minister's press conference after the national cabinet meeting in late June, when he encouraged people under 40 to speak to their GP about getting the AstraZeneca vaccine. This announcement offered us some hope. Like many friends, I immediately booked a GP appointment to discuss the possibility of getting AstraZeneca. Then ensued cries from state governments, in particular Queensland, deploring the risk to young people of AstraZeneca. Additionally, my doctor did not feel comfortable giving me that vaccine, recommending I wait until Pfizer. Cue more confusion. And dread.

We then got the PM's announcement of a four-phase plan which did little more than state the obvious - with empty words and no specific timeline for each phase. However, the promise of uninterrupted interstate and international travel and a news cycle less dominated by this virus yo-yoed me back out with feelings of hope for the future ... only to be smacked in the face about a week later with this ad, one of the first pieces of communications that seemed pointed at my generation.

We have not asked for much during this pandemic. We have accepted the need to go into lockdowns, to halt our lives and forego the opportunities and perks of youth. We have accepted the long-term economic cost will likely rest on our shoulders for decades to come.

All we want is to do our part. To get vaccinated so we can see grandparents free of guilt, work in the community without worrying we could spread the virus to vulnerable Australians, and dare to dream of travelling during our early adult years, when the world has told us we are free of real responsibility.

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Instead, the federal government's communications are ricocheting us back and forth between the extremes of hope and dread, while leaders of state and territory governments sprinkle their own messaging in between.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr is the latest to do so, announcing on Saturday that people aged 30 to 39 will be able to register their interest from Wednesday this week to receive a Pfizer vaccine. The aim is to avoid a registration crush once the doses arrive in two months. While this makes the ACT one of the fastest-moving jurisdictions to roll out vaccinations, the Melbourne and Sydney outbreaks makes it feel like Canberra is on the clock to avoid its own deadly spread. That, and I'm still seven years too young to register my interest for a Pfizer vaccine, anyway.

So here we are, stuck in this limbo, being strung up and down with confusing and extreme messaging. "Wait patiently for the vaccine, but by the way, be panicked also." Figure that out!

My age group is desperate to do its part, and until Pfizer is readily available, there needs to be a clear communications strategy and timeline specifically for young people. Fearmongering such as this ad is merely adding to confusion and anxiety.

For 18 months, we have been working to support the government. It is time it started working to support young people.

  • Olivia Ireland is an undergraduate student at the Australian National University.
This story Young Australians feel trapped by this vaccine rollout debacle first appeared on The Canberra Times.