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Communicating about COVID-19 vaccines
Updated guidance clarifying the interaction between TGA and AHPRA advertising guidelines.
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:
In recognition of the importance of responsible communications regarding the COVID-19 vaccination program, the TGA has issued subsequent legal permissions, including the permission currently in force (the 2022 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 2022 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 trade names, or active ingredients, unless the advertisement is made by an approved COVID-19 vaccination provider
- any reference to the name of the sponsor or manufacturer unless:
- the advertisement is made by an approved COVID-19 vaccination provider or
- the advertisement is made by the sponsor or manufacturer of a registered COVID-19 vaccine, in which case a reference to the sponsor or manufacturer may only be included for the purposes of a copyright notice provided it is displayed inconspicuously (i.e. does not readily attract attention)
- The content does not contain
- 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
'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.
Doctor Smith's practice
Dr 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 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.
Happy 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.
Sponsors or manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines
Company XYZ is the Australian sponsor of a COVID-19 vaccine. They publish a print advertisement which encourages the public to get a COVID-19 booster vaccine. The advertisement does not refer to the trade name or ingredient names of the vaccine. Nor does it refer to its company name other than an inconspicuously displayed copyright notice. The notice ‘© Company XYZ 2022’ is in a small font size and subtle colour. It neither stands out nor readily attracts the attention of the audience.
Under the 2022 permission, any party can offer valuable consideration (cash or other rewards) to people who have been partly or 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 partly or fully vaccinated. The TGA does not prescribe the means by which vaccination is to be verified. Whether the offer is to be made for first or full vaccination is a decision for the organisation offering the incentive
- 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')
- 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 all eligible people who have been vaccinated. The incentive program can be designed so that all people who have been partly or full vaccinated are entitled to the incentive (i.e. the offer can be applied retrospectively), or the offer can be made only to those people getting vaccinated from the date of offer.
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'.
'Partly vaccinated'' means a person has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine under the national COVID-19 vaccination program but will require further doses to be considered fully vaccinated in accordance with the recommendations made by the Australian Sponsor of the relevant vaccine.
'Fully vaccinated' means a person has received the required dose(s) of a COVID-19 vaccine under the national COVID-19 vaccination program to be considered fully vaccinated in accordance with the recommendations made by the Australian Sponsor of the relevant vaccine.
'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 partly or fully vaccinated under the national COVID-19 vaccination program.
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.
Fly Away offers a 10% discount on flights to all 'Fly Away Club' members who have either been partly or 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.
Dramatic Days theatre company publicly offers a chance to win a years' worth of free theatre tickets to anyone who is partly or 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.
The Reds Soccer Club offers free tickets to a game for anyone who is partly 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
Uptown Medical Centre and Pharmacy publishes a Facebook post offering a free health check to anyone who has been partly or 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.
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.
For businesses facilitating vaccination in the workplace
Australian businesses who partner with approved vaccine providers to facilitate vaccination of their staff in the workplace, can advise employees of the trade (brand) name of the vaccine being used. In doing so, businesses must ensure the advice remains internal to the business and is for information purposes only - that is, it must be factual and not promote a particular vaccine brand.
Additionally, the advice must not be included in or with material that does promote COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination. In order for the information to fall outside of 'advertising' (as outlined in the section above) it must merely inform employees of the vaccine being used in conjunction with other relevant logistical details which enable staff to access the vaccination service.
- An internal email to employees includes a statement to the effect: "Staff are advised that the [vaccine trade name] vaccine is being offered in the staff gymnasium on [dates and times]."
- A statement to the effect: "[business name] has partnered with [approved vaccine provider name] who is an approved vaccination provider of the [vaccine trade name]".
- An internal email to employees includes a statement to the effect: "Staff are advised that the [vaccine trade name] vaccine is being offered in the staff gymnasium on [dates and times]. Vaccination is the best way to keep ourselves and our family protected. You will receive a discount voucher for [incentive] after your first dose!"
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.
- The Australian Government materials on COVID-19 vaccines are available from:
- The arrangements described in this guidance are enabled by:
- The Therapeutic Goods (Restricted Representations - COVID-19 Vaccines) Permission 2022
- The Therapeutic Goods (Restricted Representations - Government Health Campaigns) Permission 2019
- Therapeutic Goods (Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code) Instrument 2021
- The Therapeutic Goods Act 1989
- If you have questions about the legal requirements regarding advertising of therapeutic goods including vaccines, please lodge an advertising enquiry online with the TGA.
- You can also contact the TGA by phone on 1800 020 653 (free call within Australia) or 02 6289 4124 (for mobiles that do not allow 1800 calls).
approved COVID-19 vaccination provider means a provider who is: