Global public health experts have warned national programs to administer COVID-19 vaccines won't be successful without thorough communication and engagement programs, particularly for more vulnerable members of the community.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Monday he had spoken with the global boss of pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca over the weekend, and clinical trials of the most advanced vaccines were showing "no red flags at this stage, there are only green lights".
In an article in medical journal The Lancet, a group of medical professionals, including Australian epidemiologist Professor Richard Osborne, have warned governments across the world that the best logistics, governance and organisation could come undone without buy-in from communities.
"Successful vaccine roll-out will only be achieved by ensuring effective community engagement, building local vaccine acceptability and confidence, and overcoming cultural, socioeconomic, and political barriers that lead to mistrust and hinder uptake of vaccines," the authors said.
Professor Osborne, who is the director of the Centre for Global Health and Equity at Swinburne University, wants the Australian government to start planning how it will engage with minority groups now, before a vaccine has been approved, so that community links can be established before rollout begins.
"Particularly minority groups, where they feel like government or authorities haven't really been supporting their interests in the past, they don't like a top-down approach, but they do trust their peers," Professor Osborne said.
A comprehensive communications strategy is already part of the COVID-19 vaccination policy released by the government, but Professor Osborne has warned against one-size-fits-all approach, calling for engagement with community leaders in cultural and linguistically diverse groups to ensure messages come from trusted sources.
"We need to find out who are the leaders, who are the communicators, within their hubs of communities and work with their local leaders as the primary people to be the communicators within their communities.
Some migrants may come from countries where they don't trust the government, or they have been persecuted, so other avenues need to be found.
"We have to work within their cultures to support them, with their imams, with the religious leaders, with the sport coaches, with all kinds of people who have positions in these micro-communities."
The federal government's communication in languages other than English has been criticised after it was found important public health messages had been translated to other languages using google translate, in some cases rendering them unintelligible.
In Victoria, the government was also told to do better in its communications with migrant and disadvantaged communities, who appeared to be over-represented in cases of COVID-19.
But Professor Osborne says it isn't as simple as getting better translations.
"Community health services and local health districts and primary health networks and many community organisations need to be funded directly.
"It's got to come from the hearts and minds of people within the community."
Australian governments don't need to look for for an example of success in community-led communication and action on COVID-19, Professor Osborne said, pointing out how Australia's Indigenous community-led response is acclaimed worldwide.
"There is an extraordinary network out there of Aboriginal-controlled medical centres, the Australian Indigenous Health Infonet, and great community leaders. They've rallied together, because they're a community, they are connected community and they care for each other within their community in a really powerful way."
Grants to fund Indigenous communities to decide for themselves how to effectively communicate messages about the vaccine would be a straightforward way to quickly get the message where it is needed, Professor Osborne said.