New survey reveals gaps in community perceptions of COVID-19 risks

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Moderna says a survey of 1,000 Australians has revealed knowledge gaps in perceptions of the risks of severe illness and death with some common medical conditions.

According to the survey, half (50 per cent) of respondents expressed concern about contracting COVID-19 during the upcoming winter season, with nearly the same number (49 per cent) fearing the possibility of severe illness.

Three-quarters (75 per cent) held a heightened apprehension for vulnerable Australians over 60.

However, Department of Health and Aged Care data shows that only 17 per cent of people aged 50-64 have had a booster in the last six months.

Moderna said this gap is a cause for concern as Australia enters winter and the ‘respiratory season’.

Over 2,100 Australians have died from COVID-19 in 2023. This compares to 57 influenza-associated deaths reported to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System at the end of May.

In 2017, 1,255 Australians were reported to have died from influenza, one of the worst influenza years in recent history.

Dr Rodney Pearce, Chairman of the Immunisation Coalition, said, “Although COVID-19 seems like a distant memory for some, the virus is very much still a top health concern in our community. COVID-19 is a significant cause of death in Australia, and sadly we know that it is a major cause of hospitalisation and death this winter.”

The survey has also revealed a knowledge gap regarding the official definition of comorbidities.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation recommends people with comorbidities such as heart conditions, diabetes, obesity, and cancer get a COVID-19 vaccine if it has been six months since their last vaccine or COVID-19 infection.

Yet 69 per cent of survey respondents could not correctly identify three medical conditions (diabetes, cancer and obesity) that place people contracting COVID-19 at high risk of severe illness or death.

Almost 60 per cent of respondents did not recognise that people living with obesity are at higher risk and are recommended to stay up to date with vaccinations. People with severe obesity are 76 per cent more likely to experience hospitalisation or death from COVID-19.

Dr Pearce continued, "It is concerning that so many Australians are unaware that they could have a greater risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19 due to their existing medical conditions. Staying up to date with the recommended booster vaccinations, particularly for individuals with comorbidities, is critical to reducing the risk of severe illness, and I encourage them to speak to their healthcare professional".

Dr Chris Clarke, Moderna’s Scientific Leadership Director (APAC), said, “As Australia moves through the winter season, it is vital that we remain well-informed and closely follow government guidelines as COVID-19 continues to evolve.”