Graphic COVID-19 scare campaign under way while Australians are urged to 'arm' themselves

A still from the graphic Australian government advertisement urging COVID-19 vaccination. Picture: Supplied
A still from the graphic Australian government advertisement urging COVID-19 vaccination. Picture: Supplied

The federal government has embarked on a stark scare and care reset of the public COVID-19 vaccination push, unveiling a shocking advertisement of a young woman struggling for breath while launching a military-toned campaign for Australians to "arm" themselves against the virus.

The new ads come as frustrated Australians wait for an expected surge of Pfizer vaccination doses over the coming months from overseas to meet demand from the under-60s population.

Overall, the campaign message is don't wait.

"The important message is that we need Australians to get vaccinated as quickly as possible," Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said.

"This is not a time for complacency, it is not a time for frustration, it is a time for actually recognising that and taking that responsibility for yourself, your family and the community."

In the graphic ad, the 30-second television and social media video shows a distressed young woman, an actress, depicting the severe effects of the illness in hospital. The age of the woman is unknown. COVID-19 vaccinations are not yet widely open to people over 40 years.

The ad is being targeted at the population of greater Sydney as New South Wales grapples with the current outbreak.

As well, the federal government has revealed the national military-toned "Arm Yourself" campaign featuring a series of anonymous band-aided, just jabbed arms with the encouraging tag line - "now is the time to arm yourself."

While the underlying message is the same in both approaches, but Professor Kelly says the locked down population of Sydney is getting shocked into action.

"It is quite graphic. We are only doing this because of the situation in Sydney and it will be running in Sydney," he said.

"The messages will be clear. Stay at home, get tested and booked in for a vaccination. They are the three messages on that ad, so watch out for that, it is quite graphic and it is meant to be graphic, it is meant to really push that message home that is important."

The government has been under pressure from public health groups to strengthen public messaging around vaccination amid concerns about rising vaccine hesitancy in the community, particularly related to rare nut serious complications with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

"This is another phase of the campaign and we are going to build the campaign progressively towards the end of the year," the head of the vaccine roll-out Lt Gen John Frewen said.

Just under nine percent of the Australian population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or 11 per cent of people over 16 years, while more than 26 per cent of the population has received one dose of either AstraZeneca or Pfizer.

The graphic ad and the health emergency associated with the pandemic has reminded Australians of the successful but also harming 1980s public health campaign to warn of HIV/AIDS, where the Grim Reaper used a bowling ball to mow down people.

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Award winning creative director Dee Madigan says fear works, but she is unsure about this advertisement.

"You know, really, really good campaigns, tend to make some people uncomfortable," the executive creative director and owner of advertising agency Campaign Edge told The Canberra Times.

"Whilst I think fear is the way to go, everyone will look at that and know it's an actor. Having actors can work when it's in a situation that's clearly not real. So for example, say in the bowling ball ad it's clearly not a real setting or we had, at the beginning of the year, an ad where we had Scott Morrison driving a bus mowing down workers.

"When it's supposed to be real setting it's gets much trickier when you don't have real people. You lose I think a lot of the impact. So I think it would have been better if they could have sourced actual footage."

The much less shocking "Arm Yourself" campaign depicting the arms of the just vaccinated has generally landed with disappointment.

The TV, radio, online and outside display advertisements - urging Australians to arm, "yourself, your family, your friends, your workmates, your community and someone you love" - will replace the older, low-impact campaign featuring former Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth.

The federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese is underwhelmed.

"After 18 months if this is the best they can do, they need to go back to the drawing board," he told the ABC Insiders.

Siimon Reynolds, the creator of theiconic grim reaper AIDS campaign has described Arm Yourself as "very weak".

While Ms Madigan said it was super safe and just won't work.

"I don't hate it, given the very low bar that has been this government's advertising to date," she said. "This is better. It's got a clear idea in it, it's got a call to arms in it.

"It's not particularly engaging it lacks emotional punch."

ABC radio personality Wendy Harmer also regarded the ad as lacklustre

"Ergh ... is this about getting a life-saving vaccine or a reminder to put the bins out?" she tweeted.

Overseas vaccination campaigns have gone for fun, quirkiness or the star power of celebrities and politicians such as music legend Elton John and former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid is pleased to see movement after calling for action.

"It certainly is great to see the government actually spending some money on advertising this campaign," he told the ABC.

"It is the way for Australia to emerge from the pandemic and we need to get that message, a very simple message that this is our way out.

"We've all got to do it, no matter what our fears or thoughts are, no matter whether we feel vulnerable to COVID or not, this is our way back to a relatively normal life and this is the way to protect the vulnerable in the community."

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid is pleased to see movement after calling for action.

"It certainly is great to see the government actually spending some money on advertising this campaign," he told the ABC.

"It is the way for Australia to emerge from the pandemic and we need to get that message, a very simple message that this is our way out.

"We've all got to do it, no matter what our fears or thoughts are, no matter whether we feel vulnerable to COVID or not, this is our way back to a relatively normal life and this is the way to protect the vulnerable in the community."

This story Graphic scare and care in public COVID-19 campaign first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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