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Communicating about COVID-19 vaccines

30 July 2021

As part of the Australian Government Department of Health, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) regulates the advertising of therapeutic goods in Australia. The following guidance explains how parties can lawfully provide communications about COVID-19 vaccines to support the Government’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out. The guidance also clarifies how approved vaccine providers can inform patients about the availability of particular vaccine brands.

It is important to note that this guidance only applies to COVID-19 vaccines registered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. The promotion of unregistered vaccine products is not permitted.

The information set out in this guidance does not extinguish responsibilities that any party has under other relevant laws, including but not limited to, the Australian Consumer Law. Additionally, health professionals also have responsibility to comply with the requirements of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law.

Patient consultations are exempt from the advertising requirements

The information contained in this guidance does not apply to information shared between a doctor, pharmacist or nurse (or other appropriately qualified and authorised health professional) and their patient during consultation or treatment. For example, if a patient asks their doctor during a consultation about the relative merits of each vaccine and which one is suitable for them, the doctor can advise the patient without risk of breaching the advertising laws.

Lawful communications about COVID-19 vaccines

Using government materials

In 2019, the TGA issued a permission that allows advertising of vaccines (including COVID-19 vaccines) that is, or forms part of a Commonwealth or state or territory health campaign (the 2019 permission). Under this permission, any party can use material produced by the Australian Government or an Australian state or territory government to promote COVID-19 vaccines. This material should not be altered or added to in a promotional way. However where the material has dedicated space for the advertiser to add specific information, this is allowed.

Some government material may specify vaccines by for example, referring to brand names.

Examples of material produced by Commonwealth or state or territory governments include:

Self-developed materials

In recognition of the importance of responsible communications regarding the COVID-19 vaccination program, the TGA has issued a subsequent legal permission (the 2021 permission) that allows advertisers such as health professionals, participating vaccination sites, corporate entities, media outlets and others to develop their own materials to communicate publicly about COVID-19 vaccines subject to the conditions below.

It is important to note that the 2021 permission does not apply to advertisements made in accordance with the 2019 permission.

Any party can create their own content to promote COVID-19 vaccines, provided:

  • the content is consistent with current Commonwealth health messaging regarding the national COVID-19 vaccination program, including content found on the Australian Government Department of Health website; and
  • the content does not contain:
    • any reference to the trade name, sponsor name or active ingredient or any other information that would identify the vaccine (e.g. Pfizer or AstraZeneca), unless the advertisement is made by an approved COVID-19 vaccination provider
    • any statement, or implication comparing different COVID-19 vaccines (or comparing vaccines with treatments such as medicines)
    • statements to the effect that COVID-19 vaccines cannot cause harm or have no side effects
    • any statement regarding COVID-19 vaccines that is false or misleading

The arrangements set out in the 2021 permission cease on 31 December 2022.

'Commonwealth health messaging' means material that is published on Australian Government websites (including social media). This material is updated in accordance with changes to Government policy about the vaccine program. The onus is on the party preparing the communications to ensure the message is based on current Government messaging.

'Approved vaccination provider' means a provider who is a recognised vaccine provider within the meaning of the Australian Immunisation Register Act 2015, has been approved or authorised under relevant state or territory legislation to administer approved COVID-19 vaccines; and has been approved by the Department of Health to participate in the National COVID-19 Vaccination Program.

Commonwealth messaging about the COVID-19 vaccines is crafted to both facilitate optimal uptake and to ensure the public receives accurate information about safety and efficacy. References to the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines must be in alignment with Commonwealth health messaging.

Compliant examples

Doctor Smith's practice

image of doctorDr Smith posts on the clinic's Facebook page a statement indicating that they support the Government's vaccine roll-out and encourages their eligible patients to be vaccinated. Their post includes a link to information from the Australian Government Department of Health website, along with logistical information, including the opening hours of their COVID-19 vaccination clinic and the brand of vaccine they administer.

Downtown Pharmacy

image of pharmacyDowntown pharmacy posts on its website and social media pages that it can administer the [Brand A] vaccine on Monday, Thursday and Fridays and the [Branch B] vaccine on Tuesday and Wednesdays. The Pharmacy’s website also has an online booking tool that includes information on the type of vaccine the person will receive at the time of booking an appointment.

Employers

image of mailHappy Workers Co sends an email to their staff, using their own branding, indicating they encourage all eligible staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as recommended by the Government, and on the advice of a health practitioner. In the email they offer additional paid leave and an Uber ride to attend a vaccination appointment.

Offering rewards

Under the 2021 permission, any party can offer valuable consideration (cash or other rewards) to people who have been fully vaccinated under the Government's national COVID-19 vaccination program, subject to the following conditions:

  • the offer can only be made to people who have been fully vaccinated, which for the current approved COVID-19 vaccines, means two vaccinations. The TGA does not prescribe the means by which full vaccination is to be verified
  • the offer must contain a statement to the effect that the vaccination must be undertaken on the advice of a health practitioner
  • rewards must not include tobacco or medicines (other than listed medicines)
  • the offer must only refer to COVID-19 vaccines generically (i.e. not by trade name or another reference to a particular vaccine, such as 'the mRNA vaccine')
  • the offer must be made to all eligible people who have been vaccinated i.e. the offer cannot be made to only those people vaccinated from the date of the offer, it must also apply retrospectively (i.e. to those who have commenced or completed their vaccination schedule prior to an offer being announced).
  • an offer of alcohol must not encourage excessive or rapid consumption of alcohol, have a strong or evident appeal to minors and must be served consistent with the Responsible Service of Alcohol arrangements

The offer can be made to a certain group, for example the employees of the business, or the members of the organisation, or to all members of the public.

The 'advice of a health practitioner' means that the health practitioner has consulted with the prospective recipient and advised them of their suitability to receive a vaccination having regard to the individual's health circumstances.

The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law

The arrangements set out in this guidance do not affect the responsibility health practitioners have to comply with the requirements set out in the National Law, in particular section 133(1), regarding the advertising of regulated health services.

For example, the National Law prohibits:

  • advertising that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to be misleading or deceptive; and
  • offers a gift, discount or other inducement to attract a person to use the service or the business, unless the advertisement also states the terms and conditions of the offer.

It is the responsibility of the heath practitioner to determine and communicate the applicable terms and conditions of any offer. For further information, refer to AHPRA's 'Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service'.

'Valuable consideration' includes any offer of value. Simply stated, valuable consideration occurs when a person receives goods, services or some other benefit (except for tobacco, or medicines other than listed medicines), in exchange for being fully vaccinated under the national COVID-19 vaccination program.

Advertising that contains an offer of alcohol must be consistent with Commonwealth and state and territory regulations, codes* and guidelines regarding alcohol consumption or service^.

Parties who wish to make an offer of alcohol as a reward to those who are fully vaccinated should be aware of the ABAC Responsible Alcohol Marketing Code (pdf,196kb).

*These codes include the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association Code of Practice, and the voluntary Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) Scheme.

^State and territory governments have regulations, guidelines and codes in respect to the service and consumption of alcohol. This includes liquor licensing laws and public conduct laws, Responsible Service of Alcohol requirements, and by-laws, regulations and other statutes that restrict or forbid the consumption of liquor within certain areas.

Compliant examples

Business

image of travelFly Away offers a 10% discount on flights to all 'Fly Away Club' members who have been fully vaccinated under the Government's national COVID-19 vaccination program. The offer is open to any club member on the provision of validated vaccination status. The offer includes a statement that it is only valid for vaccinations undertaken on the advice of a health practitioner.

Business

image of comedyDramatic Days theatre company publicly offers a chance to win a years' worth of free theatre tickets to anyone who is fully vaccinated under the national COVID-19 vaccination program. The offer includes a statement that it is only valid for vaccinations undertaken on the advice of a health practitioner.

Clinic and pharmacy

image of pharmacyUptown Medical Centre and Pharmacy publishes a Facebook post offering a free health check to anyone who has been fully vaccinated under the national COVID-19 vaccination program. The offer includes a statement that it is only valid for vaccinations undertaken on the advice of a health practitioner.

While businesses can limit the offer of the reward to particular persons, (i.e. members of an organisation or program, their staff etc.) the offer of the reward must not be conditional on the vaccination occurring after the offer is made.

For example, Fly Away announces the 10% discount to its club members on 8 June 2021. Club member Sam, was fully vaccinated on 1 April 2021 and therefore must be eligible to receive the reward.

Factual and balanced information that does not constitute advertising

Any party can publicly present factual and balanced information, that is not promotional and therefore not subject to the advertising rules, about the COVID-19 vaccines. Some examples of factual and balanced information include:

  • technical information relating to how the vaccines were developed and manufactured
  • a statement that a clinic or pharmacy does not have stock of a particular vaccine
  • sharing scientific reports from reputable sources (like the World Health Organization) about vaccination, without including promotional material or language
  • re-tweeting or sharing valuable news-worthy information from reputable sources about the COVID-19 vaccines; or
  • presenting comprehensive information that doesn't emphasise the benefits over, for example, the risks and limitations.

Health professional endorsements

Ordinarily, health professionals are not allowed to endorse a medicine or other therapeutic good. However in the context of the pandemic, and under the 2021 permission, this prohibition does not apply to registered COVID-19 vaccines.

Further information