Publications

Perceived public health threat a key factor for willingness to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Australia

Background: Vaccination rollout against COVID-19 is underway across multiple countries worldwide. Although the vaccine is free, rollout might still be compromised by hesitancy or concerns about COVID-19 vaccines. Methods: We conducted two online surveys of Australian adults in April (during national lockdown; convenience cross-sectional sample) and November (very few cases of COVID-19; nationally representative sample) 2020, prior to vaccine rollout. We asked about intentions to have a potential COVID-19 vaccine (If a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, I will get it) and free-text responses (November only). Results: After adjustment for differences in sample demographics, the estimated proportion agreeing to a COVID-19 vaccine if it became available in April (n = 1146) was 76.3%. In November (n = 1941) this was estimated at 71.5% of the sample; additional analyses identified that the variation was driven by differences in perceived public health threat between April and November. Across both surveys, female gender, being younger, having inadequate health literacy and lower education were associated with reluctance to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Lower perceived susceptibility to COVID-19, belief that data on the efficacy of vaccines is ‘largely made up’, having lower confidence in government, and lower perception of COVID-19 as a public health threat, were also associated with reluctance to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The top three reasons for agreeing to vaccinate (November only) were to protect myself and others, moral responsibility, and having no reason not to get it. For those who were indifferent or disagreeing to vaccinate, safety concerns were the top reason, followed by indecision and lack of trust in the vaccine respectively. Conclusions: These findings highlight some factors related to willingness to accept a COVID-19 vaccine prior to one being available in Australia. Now that the vaccine is being offered, this study identifies key issues that can inform public health messaging to address vaccine hesitancy.

Positive outcomes associated with the COVID‐19 pandemic in Australia

Methods: National online longitudinal survey. As part of a June 2020 survey, participants (n = 1370) were asked ‘In your life, have you experienced any positive effects from the COVID-­19 pandemic’ (yes/no) and also completed the World Health Organisation-­Five well-­being index. Differences were explored by demographic variables. Free-­text responses were thematically coded. Results: Nine hundred sixty participants (70%) reported experiencing at least one positive effect during the COVID-­19 pandemic. Living with others (P = .045) and employment situation (P textless .001) at baseline (April) were associated with experiencing positive effects. Individuals working for pay from home were more likely to experience positive effects compared to those who were not working for pay (aOR = 0.45, 95% CI: 0.32, 0.63, P textless .001) or who were working for pay outside the home (aOR = 0.40, 95% CI: 0.28, 0.58, P textless .001). 54.2% of participants reported a sufficient level of well-­being, 23.2% low well-­being and a further 22.6% very low well-­being. Of those experiencing positive effects, 945/960 (98%) provided an explanation. The three most common themes were ‘Family time’ (33%), ‘Work flexibility’ (29%) and ‘Calmer life’ (19%). Conclusions: A large proportion of participants reported positive effects resulting from changes to daily life due to the COVID-­19 pandemic in Australia. So what: The needs of people living alone, and of those having to work outside the home or who are unemployed, should be considered by health policymakers and employers in future pandemic preparedness efforts.

Interventions Using Heart Age for Cardiovascular Disease Risk Communication: Systematic Review of Psychological, Behavioral, and Clinical Effects

Background: Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk communication is a challenge for clinical practice, where physicians find it difficult to explain the absolute risk of a CVD event to patients with varying health literacy. Converting the probability to heart age is increasingly used to promote lifestyle change, but a rapid review of biological age interventions found no clear evidence that they motivate behavior change. Objective: In this review, we aim to identify the content and effects of heart age interventions. Methods: We conducted a systematic review of studies presenting heart age interventions to adults for CVD risk communication in April 2020 (later updated in March 2021). The Johanna Briggs risk of bias assessment tool was applied to randomized studies. Behavior change techniques described in the intervention methods were coded. Results: From a total of 7926 results, 16 eligible studies were identified; these included 5 randomized web-based experiments, 5 randomized clinical trials, 2 mixed methods studies with quantitative outcomes, and 4 studies with qualitative analysis. Direct comparisons between heart age and absolute risk in the 5 web-based experiments, comprising 5514 consumers, found that heart age increased positive or negative emotional responses (4/5 studies), increased risk perception (4/5 studies; but not necessarily more accurate) and recall (4/4 studies), reduced credibility (2/3 studies), and generally had no effect on lifestyle intentions (4/5 studies). One study compared heart age and absolute risk to fitness age and found reduced lifestyle intentions for fitness age. Heart age combined with additional strategies (eg, in-person or phone counseling) in applied settings for 9582 patients improved risk control (eg, reduced cholesterol levels and absolute risk) compared with usual care in most trials (4/5 studies) up to 1 year. However, clinical outcomes were no different when directly compared with absolute risk (1/1 study). Mixed methods studies identified consultation time and content as important outcomes in actual consultations using heart age tools. There were differences between people receiving an older heart age result and those receiving a younger or equal to current heart age result. The heart age interventions included a wide range of behavior change techniques, and conclusions were sometimes biased in favor of heart age with insufficient supporting evidence. The risk of bias assessment indicated issues with all randomized clinical trials. Conclusions: The findings of this review provide little evidence that heart age motivates lifestyle behavior change more than absolute risk, but either format can improve clinical outcomes when combined with other behavior change strategies. The label for the heart age concept can affect outcomes and should be pretested with the intended audience. Future research should consider consultation time and differentiate between results of older and younger heart age.

The role of Primary Health Networks in cardiovascular disease prevention: A qualitative interview study

Background: Since the inception of PHNs in Australia, their role in implementing chronic disease prevention activities in general practice has been unclear. This study aimed to qualitatively explore the views of PHN staff on the role of PHNs in promoting prevention, with a focus on cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention. Methods: Content analysis of PHN Needs Assessments was conducted to inform interview questions. Twenty-­nine semi-­structured interviews were conducted with 32 PHN staff, between June and December 2020, in varied roles across 18 PHNs in all Australian states and territories. Transcribed audio recordings were thematically coded, using the Framework Analysis method to ensure rigour. Results: We identified three main themes: (a) Informal prevention: All respondents agreed the role of PHNs in prevention was indirect and, for the most part, outside the formal remit of PHN Key Performance Indicators (KPIs.) Prevention activities were conducted in partnership with external stakeholders, professional development and quality improvement programs, and PHN-­funded data extraction and analysis software for general practice. (b) Constrained by financial incentives: Most interviewees felt the role of PHNs in prevention was contingent on the financial drivers provided by the Commonwealth government, such as Medicare funding and national quality improvement programs. (c) Shaped through competing priorities: The role of PHNs in prevention is a function of competing priorities. There was strong agreement amongst participants that the myriad competing priorities from government and local needs assessments impeded prevention activities. Conclusions: PHNs are well-­positioned to foster prevention activities in general practice. However, we found that PHNs role in prevention activities was informal, constrained by financial incentives and shaped through competing priorities. Prevention can be improved through a more explicit prevention focus at the Commonwealth government level. To optimise the role of PHNs, therefore, requires prioritising prevention, aligning it with KPIs and supporting stakeholders like general practice.

Contextualising COVID-19 prevention behaviour over time in Australia: Patterns and long-term predictors from April to July 2020 in an online social media sample

Background In Australia in March 2020 a national public health directive required that non-essential workers stay at home, except for essential activities. These restrictions began easing in May 2020 as community transmission slowed. Objectives This study investigated changes in COVID prevention behaviours from April-July 2020, and psychosocial predictors of these behaviours. Methods An Australia-wide (national) survey was conducted in April, with monthly follow-up over four months. Participants who were adults (18+ years), currently residing in Australia and who could read and understand English were eligible. Recruitment was via online social media. Analysis sample included those who provided responses to the baseline survey (April) and at least one subsequent follow-up survey (N = 1834 out of a possible 3216 who completed the April survey). 71.7% of the sample was female (n = 1,322). Principal components analysis (PCA) combined self-reported adherence across seven prevention behaviours. PCA identified two behaviour types: ‘distancing’ (e.g. staying 1.5m away) and ‘hygiene’ (e.g. washing hands), explaining 28.3% and 24.2% of variance, respectively. Distancing and hygiene behaviours were analysed individually using multivariable regression models. Results On average, participants agreed with statements of adherence for all behaviours (means all above 4 out of 7). Distancing behaviours declined each month (p’s textless .001), whereas hygiene behaviours remained relatively stable. For distancing, stronger perceptions of societal risk, self-efficacy to maintain distancing, and greater perceived social obligation at baseline were associated with adherence in June and July (p’stextless0.05). For hygiene, the only significant correlate of adherence in June and July was belief that one’s actions could prevent infection of family members (p textless .001). Conclusion High adherence to COVID prevention behaviours were reported in this social media sample; however, distancing behaviours tended to decrease over time. Belief in social responsibility may be an important aspect to consider in encouraging distancing behaviours. These findings have implications for managing a shift from government-imposed restrictions to individual responsibility.

The Psychological Impact of Hypertension During COVID-19 Restrictions: Retrospective Case-Control Study

Background: It is unclear how people with hypertension are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic given their increased risk, and whether targeted public health strategies are needed. Objective: This retrospective case-control study compared people with hypertension to matched healthy controls during the COVID-19 lockdown to determine whether they have higher risk perceptions, anxiety, and vaccination intentions. Methods: Baseline data from a national survey were collected in April 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown in Australia. People who reported hypertension with no other chronic conditions were randomly matched to healthy controls of similar age, gender, education, and health literacy level. A subset including participants with hypertension was followed up at 2 months after restrictions were eased. Risk perceptions, anxiety, and vaccination intentions were measured in April and June. Results: Of the 4362 baseline participants, 466 (10.7%) reported hypertension with no other chronic conditions. A subset of 1369 people were followed up at 2 months, which included 147 (10.7%) participants with hypertension. At baseline, perceived seriousness was high for both hypertension and control groups. The hypertension group reported greater anxiety compared to the controls and were more willing to vaccinate against influenza, but COVID-19 vaccination intentions were similar. At follow-up, these differences were no longer present in the longitudinal subsample. Perceived seriousness and anxiety had decreased, but vaccination intentions for both influenza and COVID-19 remained high across groups (textgreater80%). Conclusions: Anxiety was above normal levels during the COVID-19 lockdown. It was higher in the hypertension group, which also had higher vaccination intentions. Groups that are more vulnerable to COVID-19 may require targeted mental health screening during periods of greater risk. Despite a decrease in perceived risk and anxiety after 2 months of lockdown restrictions, vaccination intentions remained high, which is encouraging for the future prevention of COVID-19.

Willingness to vaccinate against COVID-19 in Australia
Concerns and motivations about COVID-19 vaccination
Chronic pain and cardiovascular disease prevention in primary care: a review of Australian primary health network needs assessments

Objective. Chronic pain and cardiovascular disease (CVD) have a high disease burden. This research aimed to understand whether Australian primary health networks (PHNs) are recognising the need for the prevention of these conditions by investigating what local health and service issues have been identified. Methods. Separate sets of needs assessments were analysed for chronic pain and CVD for all 31 PHNs using a document analysis approach. Framework analysis was undertaken to ascertain the types of health and service issues, prevention-related issues and supporting data sources identified, as well as to quantify the number of PHNs identifying these issues. Results. Fewer PHNs identified health issues for chronic pain (n ¼ 13) compared with CVD (n ¼ 30), with the most common being disease prevalence and burden supported by National Health Survey data. Service issues were identified by fewer than half the PHNs (n ¼ 13 for each disease), which were largely informed by stakeholder consultation and related to service integration, service accessibility and health professional training. Prevention-related issues were frequently identified for CVD (n ¼ 26), but not chronic pain (n ¼ 3). Conclusions. This paper highlights the need for a greater focus on chronic pain- and CVD-related issues by PHNs. This could be supported nationally by recognising chronic pain and risk factors in national datasets and PHN performance frameworks, and locally via greater stakeholder consultation to inform PHN population health planning.

COVID-19 Misinformation Trends in Australia: Prospective Longitudinal National Survey

Background: Misinformation about COVID-19 is common and has been spreading rapidly across the globe through social media platforms and other information systems. Understanding what the public knows about COVID-19 and identifying beliefs based on misinformation can help shape effective public health communications to ensure efforts to reduce viral transmission are not undermined. Objective: This study aimed to investigate the prevalence and factors associated with COVID-19 misinformation in Australia and their changes over time. Methods: This prospective, longitudinal national survey was completed by adults (18 years and above) across April (n=4362), May (n=1882), and June (n=1369) 2020. Results: Stronger agreement with misinformation was associated with younger age, male gender, lower education level, and language other than English spoken at home (Ptextless.01 for all). After controlling for these variables, misinformation beliefs were significantly associated (Ptextless.001) with lower levels of digital health literacy, perceived threat of COVID-19, confidence in government, and trust in scientific institutions. Analyses of specific government-identified misinformation revealed 3 clusters: prevention (associated with male gender and younger age), causation (associated with lower education level and greater social disadvantage), and cure (associated with younger age). Lower institutional trust and greater rejection of official government accounts were associated with stronger agreement with COVID-19 misinformation. Conclusions: The findings of this study highlight important gaps in communication effectiveness, which must be addressed to ensure effective COVID-19 prevention.