COVID Comms Cast

Navigating the issues-rich COVID-19 communications environment

Now, more than ever, individuals and businesses alike are facing unchartered territory, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the more agile may thrive in connecting and communicating with their respective stakeholders during this disruptive period, others may struggle.

In response to this environment, and to give back to the broader Australian health + wellness community, we’ve assembled a ‘COVID Comms Cast’ comprising our most senior, health-literate communicators well-versed in navigating issues and crisis-rich environments.

Our COVID Comms Cast is ready to support you, your organisation and/or stakeholders with identifying opportunities and crafting effective, authentic and accurate health-oriented messages, communication campaigns and collateral throughout COVID-19.

To mark the launch of the COVID Comms Cast, we’ve chosen to publish an exclusive e-bulletin for six weeks. The COVID Comms Cast e-bulletin will:

  • house top tips on how to effectively communicate during the current pandemic;
  • feature stories, insights, opinions and perspectives from leading international and local clinicians and health experts, including our very own GLOBALHealthPR partners; and
  • a weekly COVID news wrap.

Should you have any burning questions or topics you’d like us to canvas, or wish to tee-up an informal chat with our dedicated COVID Comms Cast, please reach out at info@vivacommunications.com.au.

COVID Comms Cast Top Tips

  • Working remotely can be isolating, and in the current situation, is a first for many. Encouraging non-work-related conversation, regular video conferencing, and remote-friendly team activities, such as trivia, can help to ensure your team maintains a good work-life balance in this challenging environment.
  • While the global pandemic understandably remains front of mind for all, millions of Australians living with non-COVID-19-related health issues continue to require ongoing medical support and care. Companies must therefore, remain vigilant in their efforts to maintain communication with these individuals, to listen to their concerns, reassure them that they have not been forgotten, and importantly, encourage them to continue to seek timely healthcare professional advice.
  • With publishers continuing to slash, suspend or end publication of their print editions, this will most certainly affect organisations and individuals wishing to secure earned media (editorial) opportunities moving forward. For insights on how to best pivot your communications strategy and tailor your messages to the ever-shrinking Australian medical and consumer media, be sure to seek professional communications counsel.
  • Given the constantly evolving landscape, companies need to ensure their messaging is adaptable and consistent with the latest COVID-related government updates and policies.
  • As restrictions ease and more Australians begin to return to the office, working from home has undeniably changed business models across the healthcare industry. The question is, how do companies and their staff navigate their way through this new normal? By implementing the positive elements of WFH, such as increased virtual communication over face-to-face meetings, reduced travel and greater flexibility, and being cognisant of the potential downfalls such as the impact on mental health, the importance of maintaining staff morale and disadvantages of a siloed team, those in the industry can come through COVID-19 stronger than ever.
  • From a communications perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us the importance of being able to act swiftly, be nimble, and to pivot on demand. Leaders at all levels were required to quickly step up, to help quell consumer panic associated with the virus. They were tasked with the unenviable role of finding a delicate balance between the delivery of too much, and too little communication. Those who over-communicated, ran the risk of inundating and overwhelming their target audience, while those who under-communicated, fuelled unease and uncertainty. Harnessing these key learnings from the pandemic will help you to communicate with balance, moving forward.

COVID News Wrap

Week 1

Supply chain disruptions

COVID-19 has exposed Australia’s heavy reliance on international supply chains, with many industries significantly impacted by the pandemic. A Defence-commissioned report obtained this week by the ABC highlighted Australia’s vulnerabilities in the face of prolonged restrictions on global trade. This rings particularly true for the health sector, with at least 90% of medicines imported from overseas. Supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19 have affected both pharmaceutical and medical device markets, prompting calls for further incentivisation and support of domestic manufacturing and reviewing national stockpiles.


The race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine continues

Although no-one is yet to successfully develop a vaccine for a coronavirus, since the advent of COVID-19, the race has been on to develop a safe and effective inoculation. While the world eagerly observes the commencement of COVID-19 trials, including  a world-first injection of the virus into patients in a UK trial, and an in-human trial set to kick-off in Perth, concerns are emerging due to fast-tracked trial and approval timelines. Which begs the question, what are we willing to risk in the race to develop a vaccine in months, rather than years? 


Launch of COVIDSafe app

This week, the Australian Government launched the COVIDSafe tracking app to aid case-tracing efforts and alert app users who may have come into contact with a COVID-positive person. Despite widespread privacy concerns, more than 2.8 million Australians have downloaded the non-mandatory app to date.  


Declining new COVID-19 cases spurs talk of easing restrictions

The initial success of Australia’s COVID-19 restrictions imposed over the past two months are becoming increasingly apparent, with the average number of daily new cases now < 20, down from > 300 this time last month. Talks of easing restrictions gained momentum this week, with State-specific limits on accessing public places, such as beaches and small private gatherings slowly beginning to lift. However, with countries such as Singapore now experiencing a devastating second wave of the virus, it’s important that we continue to exercise extreme caution and patience, in order to contain the virus.


Mental health implications

It’s not just the physical health toll of COVID-19 that is causing concern, as experts this week warned flattening the curve is only the beginning of a longer period of declining mental health for Australians. Federal and State Governments are working together on a national mental health plan to address with the various psychological issues expected to be created by the on-going social and economic effects of the pandemic. The plan is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Week 2

PM reveals 3-stage roadmap to a COVIDSafe Australia

Scott Morrison today announced the roadmap to reopen Australia’s economy by July 2020, with the easing of COVID-19 induced restrictions to be rolled out in three stages. Australia’s daily new COVID-19 case count has remained consistently low and steady in recent weeks. Public patience however will be key to ensuring we do not experience a second wave of infections. Stage 1 includes public gatherings of 10 people, reopening of restaurants and shopping outlets and an easing of local and regional travel restrictions.

New research predicts increased suicide rate due to COVID-19

New modelling of the adverse impact of COVID-19 on employment, social dislocation and mental health, has experts predicting a potential 25 per cent increase in suicide rates, with 30% attributable to young people, and a possible further increase should the economy worsen. AMA President, Tony Bartone, Melbourne, and psychiatrists, Professor Ian Hickie AC, Sydney and Professor Patrick McGorry AO, Melbourne this week called for urgent action to address the significant mental health challenges posed by COVID-19.

Australian biotech developing plasma product to treat COVID-19

Australian biotech company CSL is developing a potential treatment for serious COVID-19 infection using plasma donations from those who have recovered from the virus. The trial COVID-19 immunoglobulin product is being developed using the high levels of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in donated blood. With the COVID-19 virus likely to continue to mutate, some are questioning whether discovering a treatment is a more realistic, short-term goal?

Join the Nurse Brave Rave

Nurses and midwives worldwide are being acknowledged this week for their unwavering commitment to, and care for those on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. To celebrate the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, Health Professionals Bank (HPB) is urging all Australians to show their support and solidarity for our brave nurses and midwives via a social media campaign – the Nurse Brave Rave dance challenge. The live Facebook event will be held on International Nurses Day (Tuesday, May 12, 2020). Be sure to join!

Potential implications of second strain of COVID-19

Recent research suggests COVID-19 has already mutated into a second strain, which could potentially impact the efficacy of vaccines under current trial and development. The research, although yet to be peer-reviewed, suggests the ‘G-strain’ could undermine immunity gained from exposure to the original strain. While COVID-19 mutations were not unexpected, the implications on vaccine development and our ability to protect ourselves against the virus, could prove significant.

Launch of Australia’s first Continuity of Care Collaboration

Plummeting patient numbers at emergency departments and declining pathology tests have raised concerns that non-coronavirus illnesses are being left untreated. These observations mirror concerns that Australians are delaying medical visits, tests, investigations or immunisations, in fear of contracting COVID-19. To address this public health issue, 15 peak bodies, industry and healthcare organisations joined forces this week in an Australian-first, national Continuity of Care Collaboration (CCC)  to reinforce the importance of monitoring one’s health, and maintaining regular medical care.

 

Week 3

Mysterious coronavirus-linked disease found in children

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Australia, Dr Brendan Murphy, Melbourne has requested a report from leading Australian paediatric experts  on Kawasaki disease – a rare disease affecting children that inflames the walls of the blood vessels – including its possible links to COVID-19. Australian officials have been left alarmed and desperately seeking answers following identification of the disease in almost 100 children in the United States, causing three fatalities. The United Kingdom and Italy have similarly reported Kawasaki disease cases. Federal Health Minister, The Hon. Greg Hunt MP said officials were keen to learn more about the illness, but stressed there were currently no known cases in Australia.

Australia’s first e-script

With telehealth becoming “the new normal” for many health professionals and patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia’s first legal electronic prescription has just successfully been dispensed. The prescription was written by GP, Dr David Corbet from Anglesea, Victoria. So how does it work? A doctor can send the electronic prescription together with a code or “token” to a patient by SMS or email. The patient then presents or forwards the code to their dedicated pharmacy for dispensing. The Federal Government is working with providers to upgrade doctor and pharmacy clinical software to enable the roll out of electronic prescribing from this month.

Trial of immunoregulatory medication for critically ill patients

Researchers at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Brisbane are preparing to trial Roche’s immunoregulatory medication, Actemra, to treat critically ill patients diagnosed with COVID-19. The researchers are hopeful Actemra will block the inflammatory response thought to cause severe respiratory failure, which patients often experience during the second week of COVID-19 illness. Should Australia witness a spike in coronavirus cases in the coming months, the Actemra trial will be made available to critically ill patients in select hospitals nation-wide.

Launch of Selfcare in Healthcare

This week marked the launch of Selfcare in Healthcare, a social media initiative urging Pharma, Biotech and MedTech industry professionals to take action and offer mental health support to one another during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Selfcare in Healthcare launch aligns with the Federal Government’s mental health initiative #inthistogether. The #selfcareinhealthcare team is a small group of healthcare industry companies committed to building awareness of, and helping people access mental health-related information and support.

Demand for flu vaccine on rise

This week, Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd, Melbourne, warned Australians that with flu season just around the corner, it’s important to seek protection immediately, by having an annual flu shot. Prof Kidd’s call follows the Federal Health Minister’s announcement last month, who reinforced the particular importance of getting vaccinated this year due to COVID-19. Overwhelming demand has seen private flu vaccine suppliers, such as TerryWhite Chemmart, struggling to keep pace with flu vaccination requests, announcing they have already vaccinated more people to date than during last year’s entire flu season.

Week 4

Australia’s death toll hits 100

COVID-19 claimed its 100th Aussie life this Monday. A 93-year-old resident of Newmarch House, Sydney succumbed to COVID-19. She was the 19th person to die at the nursing home after an employee tested positive for COVID-19 on April 11. Unlike many countries, Australia has managed to contain the spread of the virus, with most deaths linked to two major clusters – ‘The Ruby Princess’ cruise ship and Newmarch House.

QLD trials in humans moving us one step closer to a COVID-19 vaccine

More than 100 Queenslanders this week volunteered to be injected with a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Australian clinical trials specialist, Nucleus Network, is partnering with US-based biotechnology company, Novavax, to commence Phase One testing of the NVX-CoV2373 vaccine. Aussie researchers have been busy recruiting more than 2,250 healthcare workers for the COVID SHIELD trial, investigating whether the antiviral, hydroxychloroquine, can prevent COVID-19.

CSIRO investigating Australia’s capability of manufacturing a COVID-19 vaccine

In her first National Press Club address this Wednesday,  Federal Industry Minister, The Hon. Karen Andrews MP said identifying local manufacturing capabilities was one of the Government’s first priorities when the pandemic was declared. Ms Andrews has tasked the CSIRO with examining Australia's potential to manufacture vaccines. The capability mapping will involve Australian biotech CSL and the local arm of Johnson & Johnson.

Long-term effects of COVID-19 explored

More than 1.6 million people worldwide have mounted a recovery from COVID-19, but knowledge of whether the virus renders permanent, or long-lasting damage, is still unknown. With researchers’ predominantly focusing on the transmission, symptoms and mortality of the virus, researchers at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney are planning to investigate the long-term outcomes for survivors. The ADAPT study will investigate pulmonary, immunological and neurological effects of COVID-19.

COVID-19 restrictions fuel 400,000 surgery backlog

A recent study published in the British Journal of Surgery forecasted an almost 400,000 backlog in elective surgery cases, including 25,000 Australian cancer surgeries, due to government restrictions on elective procedures. According to the paper, an estimated 67,000 Australian operations have been cancelled each week since the suspension of elective operations in mid-March, 2020. Private Hospitals Association Chief, Michael Roff, Canberra, said the private sector would continue to assume some elective surgeries from public hospitals to help clear the backlog.

Aussies urged to retain private health insurance

Data released this week by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority revealed 9,760 Australians had abandoned their private health insurance by March 31, 2020 compared with data from three months earlier. The health insurance membership decline began during the early stages of our nation’s social distancing restrictions and ban on non-essential elective surgery. Private Healthcare Australia Chief Executive, Rachel David, Canberra urged health fund members to continue to pay their premiums to avoid long waiting periods in the public health system.

Week 5

Temperature checks miss COVID-positive students

Just a day after Eastern seaboard students returned full-time to school this week, two Sydney schools witnessed forced closures due to COVID-19. Two  students – a 10 year old from Moriah College and a 12 year old from Waverley College – were diagnosed with corona virus despite on-campus temperature checks. Meanwhile, multiple Melbourne-based schools remain closed until next week, following the COVID-19 diagnosis of a student from Keilor Downs College who came into contact with students from three local schools – just a week after a teacher from the same school tested positive for the virus.

 

Weekend elective surgeries to address waiting lists

Hospitals are considering after-hours operations to address waiting list blow-outs following the suspension of elective surgery due to COVID-19. Australia is facing an almost 400,000 elective surgery case backlog. Australia’s top 5 elective surgeries include skin cancer removal, cataract surgery, gynaecological surgery, tonsillectomy and reproductive procedures.

 

WHO halts hydroxychloroquine trials 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has stopped all trials involving hydroxychloroquine, including the Australasian COVID-19 trial (Ascot), due to safety concerns cited in a large observational study just published in The Lancet. The study found COVID-19 patients who received hydroxychloroquine were dying at higher rates and experiencing more heart-related complications than other virus-laden patients. The study, which analysed data from nearly 15,000 COVID-19 positive patients who received hydroxychloroquine alone, or in combination with antibiotics, compared this data with 81,000 controls.

 

Investigation launched into counterfeit hospital face masks

An investigation has been launched to determine how counterfeit face masks penetrated Australian hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic. Some doctors and nurses treating COVID-19- infected patients in certain hospitals have been unknowingly wearing counterfeit face masks. In March 2020, the TGA dropped strict regulations requiring all masks to be tested pre- Australian registration to address a global shortage of personal protective equipment. The problem appears to be concentrated in the private sector, where hospitals typically purchase masks through their own suppliers.

 

Saliva tests to detect COVID-19

According to a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Queensland’s School of Dentistry, Dr Pingping Han, a saliva test could be used to diagnose the presence and transmission of COVID-19. This alternative form of detection to nasal swabs is reportedly non-invasive, accurate and accessible, noting the United States Food and Drug Administration last week approved the first SARDS-CoV-2 test, enabling people to take the test at home.

Week 6

Could COVID-19 be a winter disease?

A new University of Sydney study published in Transboundary and Emerging Diseases has found a link between lower humidity and an increase in locally acquired infections. The study – the first peer-reviewed study of its kind exploring the relationship between climate and COVID-19 in the southern hemisphere – revealed even a one per cent reduction in humidity could increase the number of COVID-19 cases by six per cent.

Federal Government invests $66 million into COVID-related research

This week the Federal Government announced a significant $66 million investment into the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, antiviral therapies for COVID-19, clinical trials of potential treatments for the virus, and research to improve the health system’s response to the virus and other, future pandemics.

New framework for cancer care during a pandemic

Cancer Australia recently announced publication of an Australian-first framework for cancer care during a pandemic. An estimated 400 Australians are diagnosed with cancer each day, with emerging evidence revealing adult cancer patients are more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection and are at a higher risk of severe events from infection, than those free from cancer. The framework is intended to promote discussion and strategies for decision making on cancer care during a pandemic.

COVID pushes Australia into a recession

Australia has officially entered an  economic recession for the first time in nearly 30 years, with the double impact of the bushfires and COVID-19 ending three decades of economic growth. Federal Treasurer, The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP defended the government-enforced COVID-19 lockdown measures that helped fuel the situation this week, citing the rigorous response to this one-in-a-hundred-year event was crucial to flattening the curve and steering the nation and its population away from a worse health and economic fate.

Asymptomatic COVID rates higher than originally suspected

According to an Australian study of an Antarctic cruise holiday, true COVID-19 infection rates could be up to five-times higher than recorded, with four-in-five virus-infected passengers showing no signs of any symptoms. Of the 217 passengers and crew on board the cruise ship, 128 tested positive for the virus, while 104 patients (81 per cent) displayed no symptoms. Another study involving coronavirus patients from Wuhan, China, further identified that a significant proportion were asymptomatic.

Weekly e-bulletins