COVID-19 immunopolitics, pandemic governance and the communication of scientific knowledge

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This chapter examines biopolitical troubles in the communication of expert advice regarding vaccination for COVID-19. Messaging about vaccination was challenging due to the multiple vaccines and their different efficacy. Media controversy surrounded vaccine supply delays and the slow pace of vaccination in aged care and amongst other vulnerable groups. Expert responses to the blood clot risk of the AstraZeneca vaccine complicated messages for the general public and are thought to have reduced vaccine uptake. These troubles were somewhat backgrounded because outbreaks of the virus had been contained after the long Melbourne lockdown in 2020. Unfortunately, this situation changed dramatically with the introduction into Australia of the Delta COVID-19 variant in mid-2021. The more easily transmissible and disease producing virus strain entered an ‘un-immunised’ population, that is, largely unvaccinated and also naïve to COVID-19 infection. The pandemic threat for Australian citizens was greatly accentuated by this intersection of the slow vaccine rollout and the spread of the Delta variant, forcing a changed national consensus on pandemic management. I consider this situation in light of Esposito’s notion of immunitas, which draws attention to the self-defeating turn that biopolitics can take. I argue that vaccine rollout messaging was troubled because it foregrounded self-interested individualism that served to immunise the state from the political effects of the pandemic and vaccine problems. These circumstances underline the threat to life entailed in some responses to threats. They call for communications that disrupt self-defeating autoimmune responses and affirm vaccination as the means for building the communities of cooperative interdependence necessary for navigating through the pandemic crisis.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCommunicating Covid-19
Subtitle of host publicationMedia, trust, and public engagement
EditorsMonique Lewis, Eliza Govender, Kate Holland
Place of PublicationCham Switzerland
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9783031412370
ISBN (Print)9783031412363
Publication statusPublished - 2024

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