Business lessons to be learned from Australia’s ‘rookie’ vaccine rollout


Source: Unsplash/Louis Reed.

If you only consume Australia’s mainstream news, you’d be forgiven for not having a definitive answer to the question, “what has gone wrong with the vaccine rollout?”.

Amid a web of stories that report on vaccine shortages, reluctance over health concerns or a lack of social demand that coincides with international travel ban, there doesn’t appear to be one key reason — or if there is, it isn’t clear. 

Of course, we do have a supply issue — what the rollout’s coordinator Lieutenant General John Frewen calls “a resource-constrained environment” — and there are certainly vocal anti-vaxxers in our midst, but this narrative completely ignores the majority of the population that want to be immunised but can’t find out how, when or where.

Recent developments with the Delta strain, and state governments’ actions to put a large portion of Australia into lockdowns or under tighter restrictions, has meant more news on the vaccine and its pending rollout has been shared than ever before.

But is this adding further fuel to a fire of confusion? Particularly where AstraZeneca is now being offered to “those under 40s who want it” — despite health risks to the same age group being reported merely days ago. 

In all of this, the government has forgotten the customers — members of the general public — and how to serve them in the best way possible.

The result? A failing vaccine rollout that is globally recognised.

Australia has gone from the champions of the COVID-19 pandemic to suffering an embarrassing trip at the final hurdle, with Australia reporting to have only successfully vaccinated 3% of the country, against the rest of the world’s 10% average. 

As the chief executive of a business specialising in logistics and seamless delivery, I believe there are lessons for businesses to avoid a similar fate with rollouts of their own. 

Useful communication

There are several parties involved in the rollout and this can muddy the waters somewhat. What politicians, healthcare providers and medical professionals say needs to be aligned and relevant to each role. Moreover, what the public needs and wants to know should be addressed.

The initial stages of the vaccine rollout faltered because those in charge let misinformation get out of hand, while they were still trying to confirm the logistics of the program.

It doesn’t help that the government’s first preference, the AstraZeneca vaccine, started only being recommended for people aged over 60 due to health risks. This means those in the first cohort, including frontline workers, disabled people and people between 50-59, need to complete the process with a second dose knowing that it’s now not recommended for those under 60.

To further confuse, announcements overnight include another change to who can have the AstraZeneca vaccine — the under 40s who were initially at more of a health risk — but with no advice or mention of these health risks to ensure the public that it is safe.

The rollout requires clear communication that informs the public of how, when and where to get vaccinated. Clear guidelines on what to expect give people the opportunity to ask questions and air their concerns, so they can be addressed by the appropriate person, rather than have them fall down a rabbit hole of rumour and misleading information.

These simple methods of clear communication ring true in any business, and in this age of urgency, especially in the delivery and courier sector, half an hour of no communication can seem like a lifetime. Silence leads to frustration, misinformation and misconceptions. 

The goal should be to reduce friction. For some businesses that means anticipating the tricky questions that might be asked by stakeholders and customers, and addressing them before they get the chance to. For our business it means that in addition to real-time updates on the whereabouts of their parcels, customers can also liaise directly with the driver at any given time — leaving the communication lines open should any questions crop up. 

For the government, this could result in faster uptake of the vaccine, more efficient distribution models and the icing on the cake, a vote of confidence, which is invaluable to any leader, politician or business owner. 

Transparency and trust

Transparency is what my business is built upon. After a series of rude telephone calls, and multiple failed attempts at a parcel delivery, I too was faced with the very angry result of no communication, and lack of transparency: a shouting courier driver. 

Overwhelmed with frustration that I then had to call the courier back to reschedule my own delivery, the idea of real time-tracking and Zoom2u was born. 

Delivery and administration of any personal items, particularly a vaccine, requires a lot of trust. One key way to gain trust is to be transparent, and transparency is decidedly lacking in the rollout. From the opaque results of vaccine trials, to the hidden connections some politicians have with pharmaceutical companies, which has ultimately led to a less efficacious vaccine being favoured over the other. 

It also doesn’t help that many of our leaders choose spin over straight talk. Blaming public reluctance to be vaccinated when it was clearly stated that vaccination was “not a race” neither tells us what’s really going on — are there supply issues or not? — nor does any of this communicate clearly to us what we should be doing. Should we rush out and potentially overwhelm the system? Or wait and get told we’re the problem again? Neither situation inspires trust and confidence in those who are supposed to be leading us.

Being open about other elements, such as logistics challenges and potential side effects, also helps the public manage their expectations and reduces any fears that are driven by uncertainty. Customers want to feel that they are in control of their decisions, and to do this, we as leaders must empower them with all of the right information, to do so. 

Speed and efficiency

The thing about vaccination is that the quicker most of the population are inoculated, the faster we can eradicate vectors for the virus. Both communication and transparency can support speed and efficiency as these elements encourage people to get vaccinated as soon as possible. 

I would also add that advances in technology can assist with this. For example, tracking vaccine delivery will ensure that enough doses are sent to the areas of most need, and providing an easy-to-use interface to find and book appointments can reduce frustration for people who are otherwise on the fence about being vaccinated. If you eliminate the pain for the customer, they are more likely to complete the process.

Allowing recipients to report back in real time could also enhance the vaccine rollout. For example, if one location only uses 50% of the inoculations received, this can be updated into a system in real time, so that these can either be transported at haste to the next location and put to good use, before expiry. 

Lack of transparency and communication has led to distrust between the government and the people, resulting in a vaccine hesitancy across an entire nation. Focusing on the needs of the customer — addressing their fears through good communication, earning their trust with transparency and making it easy for them to take action — goes a long way towards encouraging them to make a decision in your favour, whether you’re a business trying to convince a potential customer to buy from you, or a government program looking for public support and participation.

So… what went wrong with the vaccine roll out?

The answer? A number of things. But due to lack of consistent communication and transparency, we are all left a little bewildered and lacking in trust. Take the initial perceptions of masks which were originally coined “useless against the virus”, as another example of inconsistent messaging — which as of this week are now compulsory. 

Australians should not have had to wait for a new, much more contagious and economically damaging strain to come into play, for the speed and efficiency of the vaccine rollout to finally meet expectations. Granted that the UK and US were in a worse position with cases and death rates, but the vast majority of these populations were eager to be vaccinated, with no hesitation.

The government now has a big job to do when it comes to controlling new communications, transparency and delivery for what could be considered a “rushed” vaccine rollout. 

The good news? As the program starts to gain momentum, we are taking positive steps towards progress. More than 7.4 million doses have been administered across Australia, with 1.21 million of Australia’s receiving full vaccination, being 4.8% of the entire population — up 1.8% on last week. 

While it is not widely advertised, the process for checking your eligibility to be vaccinated, and registering for this, is seamless. Let’s hope that technology, transparent communication, and logistical efficiencies can be prioritised so that progress continues before this next wave can take hold. 

If you want to know more about how to register for the vaccination, click here


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