Why doctors are angry about 'graphic' coronavirus advert

·4-min read

Numerous medical and health professionals have hit out at a “graphic” advertising campaign aimed at showing people the confronting reality of battling Covid-19.

The ad, which shows a distressed young woman in a hospital bed struggling to breath while hooked up to a machine, was aired for the first time on Sunday.

Despite Australia's Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly warning that the footage is “graphic”, the confronting campaign was quickly slammed by doctors and nurses online for being misleading and scaring viewers.

“This ad should be immediately taken off air,” UNSW Strategic Health Policy Consultant Adjunct Professor Bill Bowtell wrote on Twitter.

“Today in Sydney a young girl with Covid - about the same age as the actor in the ad - is on a ventilator fighting for her life. This insensitive ad can only distress her family and friends. It is misconceived in every way.”

The new 'graphic' ad from the Australian government aims to warn people about the confronting dangers of the coronavirus. Source: Australian Government
The new 'graphic' ad from the Australian government aims to warn people about the confronting dangers of the coronavirus. Source: Australian Government

Guy Rees, a head and neck surgeon from Adelaide, wrote that the ad does not represent “what happens in ICU for hypoxaemic patients.”

“Don’t scare people with unrealistic images. Especially don’t do that when they have no ability to get vaccinated,” he said, alluding to the country’s heavily-criticised vaccine rollout.

Palliative care physician Dr Sonia Fullerton said her colleagues "would not let someone suffer like that before they intervened.”

“Please don’t share the ad of the woman gasping for breath. Most in that age group haven’t been eligible for a vaccination and that is not how we look after people who are sick,” Geriatrician Dr Kate Gregorevic posted on Twitter.

Tom Solano, who identified himself as an ICU specialist, took to social media to reassure people that “we’d never deliberately let you suffer like that”.

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'Feel the need to reassure people'

Associate Professor Holly Seale, an infectious disease social scientist at UNSW, told Yahoo News Australia on Tuesday that concerns stem from the ad misrepresenting “the approach that would be taken with a patient who was in that sort of respiratory stress”.

She said it seems that medical and health professionals are so concerned about it that they’ve felt the need to reassure people on social media that they would act in that situation.

“They shouldn’t have to be put in that position, to feel the need to reassure people,” Ms Seale said.

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She also added that the ad might have been “quite shocking” to some viewers, which appears to have been the motivation.

“For the current outbreak in Sydney…I don’t need a shocking ad like that, I’m seeing it play out in terms of the age range of the people that are in the ICU,” she said.

It was reported last week that a teenager with Covid is in the ICU and four other patients, including a person in their 20s, are on ventilators.

Ms Seale said the money spent on the ad and the new national ‘Arm Yourself’ campaign to promote vaccines could have been “better spent elsewhere”.

'Arm Yourself' is 'another wasted opportunity' 

The feedback for the ‘Arm Yourself’ campaign, which features pictures of people with their sleeves rolled up and a band aid covering a supposed vaccination jab, has also not been favourable.

A group of eight marketing lecturers compiled a critique for The Conversation, in which they deemed the campaign “another wasted opportunity”.

While the ad targets an emotional response through fear, ‘Arm Yourself’ fails to trigger an emotional or rational appeal, they said.

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“It provides little information beyond a metaphoric battle slogan. Its primary call to action is to visit a website. It lacks the powerful imagery, stirring music or relatable characters needed to engage the audience,” the experts wrote.

“This is another missed opportunity to alleviate fears and align with the broader pandemic messaging of community spirit and solidarity to encourage a high uptake of the vaccine by Australians of all ages.”

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