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Accurate communication for combating COVID-19

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The 49-year-old doctor has again been called upon to talk about the COVID-19 vaccine to a group of refugees and migrants in Langford, in Perth’s eastern suburbs. Having fielded questions from different cultural groups for the past year, she knows their concerns won’t just be about the risk of rare blood clots.

 

” There is a lot of mistrust between culturally diverse people and white people. As soon as people began talking about the vaccine, people were saying ‘oh my God, this is meant to make us infertile’ “. 

 

Dr Nattabi, who also holds a PhD in international health, said the misconception that a vaccine could be used to wipe out an entire population of black people is real and exists because of an information vacuum. She said we need to get ahead of the anti-vaxxers. But she thinks a lot of times people think it is not their role.

 

 

Educating migrants one by one

Dr Nattabi knows the first step in communicating her message is by gaining people’s trust. After welcoming the group in eight different languages, her first slide flashes onto the projector screen: “You have a choice: Nobody can force you to get the vaccine”. Despite her decades of medical experience and understanding of the benefits of vaccines, she believes it is an important declaration to make upfront.

She said when she put that slide up, basically what she was saying was she didn’t come here to force anything on anyone. She was there to have a discussion. While she knows these small community talks will only reach a tiny fraction of the population, Dr Nattabi said the benefits cannot be underestimated.

“For me, one person vaccinated is helpful,” she said. 

 

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Blood clot risk greater after Covid infection

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The chances of developing dangerous blood clots after being infected with the virus that causes Covid-19 far outweighs the risks of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines, according to the largest study of its kind.

The sweeping analysis used data from more than 29 million people in England to compare both vaccines with infection from Sars-CoV-2. It weighed up rates of hospital admission or death from blood clots, as well as other blood disorders, within 28 days of either a positive test or receiving the first jab.

The findings were based on data from electronic health records collected between December 1st, 2020, and April 24th, 2021.

In addition to thrombocytopenia (a condition characterised by low platelet counts) and blood clots, the researchers also looked at certain other risks, including CVST (blood clots in the brain) and ischaemic stroke (a blood clot or blockage that cuts off the blood supply to the brain).

Overall, they found an increased risk of thrombocytopenia, blood clots in veins and other rare arterial blood clots after a first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. After the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, they found a higher risk of blood clots in arteries and ischaemic stroke.

However, the data showed that there would be 934 extra cases of thrombocytopenia for every 10 million people after infection, compared with 107 after the first shot of the AstraZeneca jab. For ischaemic strokes, there would be an estimated 1,699 extra cases for every 10 million people after infection, while there would be only 143 extra cases after the first Pfizer jab.

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Lifeline hotline calls increased significantly

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The volunteers manning Lifeline’s crisis hotline have noticed an interesting trend — an increase in first-time callers who say they’ve never felt the need to use the service before.

Some are timid and unsure about whether they should be calling the crisis line, others apologetic; heavy with the knowledge that many others are also suffering right now.

That more people are reaching out to mental health services a year and a half into a pandemic that has upturned our lives, forced people out of work, and left people physically isolated from friends and family isn’t exactly a surprise.

As Sydney prepares to enter its ninth week in lockdown, the mental health organisation is preparing to mark its own milestone: its busiest month since it was founded almost 60 years ago.

The volunteers who answer the calls, known as crisis supporters, say this because the lockdown has exacerbated people’s existing issues — such as financial stress or family problems — and amplified feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Pandemic a tipping point

Overwhelmingly the people who work on the frontlines of the mental health crisis say it is usually not just COVID-19 that has led a person to seek help, but a culmination of factors that have worsened since the pandemic.

This could be someone who has a strained relationship with their families forced to spend more time with them, the removal of socialising as a coping mechanism for people who were previously managing to maintain their mental health, or financial stress from lack of work.

A watershed year

It’s been a record-breaking month for mental health services. On Thursday, Lifeline recorded 3,505 calls in one day — the highest daily number in the organisation’s 57-year history. It was fourth time this month the record had been broken.

More generally, the number of calls is 40 per cent higher than it was two years ago. Where pre-pandemic Lifeline would expect an average of 2,400 calls a day, they are now regularly hovering around 3,400. The calls are also typically longer, which indicates higher levels of distress.

Mental health organisation Beyond Blue has also experienced a dramatic spike in requests for support since the beginning of the Sydney lockdown. Since the stay-at-home orders were introduced this time, demand for the organisation’s services has increased by 29 per cent — almost double the usual 14 per cent increase seen during past lockdowns.

With lockdowns in place across large parts of the eastern seaboard, health authorities are acutely aware of the mental health impact.

Dr Grant Blashki, the lead clinical adviser at Beyond Blue, describes the current situation as a “triple whammy” for people already struggling, referring to concerns about work and finances, the virus itself, and the vaccine.

As a result, since the beginning of the pandemic, leaders have pushed to ensure mental health support is part of the pandemic response and the national conversation.

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Get vaccinated in your state

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