Two weeks ago, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that its vaccine was more than 90 percent effective, and healthcare PR experts warned about the possible comms challenges when the vaccine is eventually rolled out. In the last couple of weeks, other vaccine developers have revealed that the finish line is approaching—spurring governments in the region to react and devise communication plans as the prospect of reopening borders inches closer.
When South Korea expanded its flu vaccine programme, reports of deaths increased which led to public wariness and Singapore suspending the use of the vaccines as a precaution. But scientists quickly determined that the deaths were unrelated to the vaccines.
A crisis communications plan ensued to assure residents that its programme was safe, and to instill trust in impending Covid vaccine rollouts.
Dr. Noel T. Brewer, a professor in the health behaviour department at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, said in an interview with New York Times that the country was "doing everything right" despite the unfortunate coincidence.
"The government is gathering data, giving information to the public quickly and standing up for their vaccination program. That will ensure public trust, and help the program," he told the paper.
India—the most dire Covid-affected country in APAC— is currently developing a vaccine candidate which would complete its final trials in a month or two, raising hopes for a rapid rollout domestically. In what is called the most "advanced Indian experimental vaccine", the government's plan was to immunise up to 250 million Indians by next July.
It was also reported earlier this week by AFP and Reuters that India will be given first priority for the delivery of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine despite New Delhi not yet deciding which vaccine to adopt yet.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned about undiscovered vaccine side-effects. "Even medicines popular for 20 years and used by hundreds of thousands of people lead to reactions in some, even today," he said in a conference with chief ministers.
A week ago, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong assured Singaporeans that the country wouldn't be "last in queue" when vaccines are made available. A committee has already been formed to prioritise those who should receive the vaccine first.
But Lee remained cautious during an interview with Bloomberg last week. He said: "I do not think you would have finished protecting the world's population within the next year. Furthermore, you are not sure what risks and problems may arise. We have to learn as we feel our way forward."
Minister Lawrence Wong also stopped short of complete hope. "We're certainly encouraged by it, it's very promising, but I would say also that the vaccine is not a silver bullet to end the pandemic," he said during an interview on CNBC. "We should not put all our eggs into the vaccine basket."
Perhaps no city has been as affected as the world's most visited: Bangkok. But visitor numbers are beginning to swell after the government unveiled a special long-stay visa, which led to the country welcoming 1,000 foreign tourists in October. Of course, this is still considerably lower than the 3.07 million that entered the country in the same period last year.
Progress towards a vaccine is driving optimism that the country will soon reopen for mass tourism with overseas investors already buying into the country's financial markets.
It was reported yesterday that Thailand may have to wait for vaccines to reach its shores as countries around the world snap up millions of doses from Pfizer and Moderna. But it was announced today that AstraZeneca's vaccine should be available in Thailand in the first half of 2021 under a technology-transfer deal signed with the Thai government.
As cases ease in Australia following a spike in early August, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will very soon be announcing an agreement with influenza vaccine company Seqirus to build an AU$800 million facility at Melbourne Airport's Business Park to create and manufacture vaccines.
Once the global Covid vaccine is rolled out, incoming travellers will be required to be vaccinated or face a prolonged quarantine, officials say. Morrison said that although there might have to be exemptions for those with genuine medical reasons as to why they could not be vaccinated, there would be little tolerance for anti-vaxxers.
On top of that, national carrier Qantas' CEO Alan Joyce said that flyers will have to be immunised before boarding. "We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say for international travellers that we will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft," he said in a TV interview. "Whether you need that domestically, we will have to see what happens."
(This article first appeared on PRWeek.com)