Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday December 1, 2020
How the health system is addressing vaccine hesitancy, a looming hurdle in race to end pandemic
Tanya Hayles is not an anti-vaxxer. The Torontonian has made sure her eight-year-old son Jackson is up to date with the standard vaccines, and she, too, has been inoculated.
“There are diseases that we were able to eradicate as a result of vaccines,” she said.
The event planner, whose business has suffered as a result of the pandemic, would like nothing more than to see the end of COVID-19 as well. Given the choice, though, she said she wouldn’t be “first in line” for a COVID-19 vaccination.
She points out that side effects of the immunizations she and her son have received in the past are well-known to doctors. “They can say, ‘Oh, look for a rash around the needle point,’ et cetera.”
However, Hayles has concerns about whether such clarity will be available with a coronavirus vaccine that has been developed so quickly.
“Something this big, something this major, something this rushed — I would want to know more information before I put it in my body,” she said.
Health authorities say the benefits of approved vaccines far outweigh any risks. But international research shows that while most people anxiously await the availability of pandemic-crushing immunizations, a sizeable minority are unsure whether they’d get the vaccine, at least in the early days after one is approved.
As Canada readies itself to evaluate and eventually distribute COVID-19 vaccines, this vaccine hesitancy is becoming a key focus of the country’s top officials.
According to Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, 65 to 78 per cent of Canadians have indicated they would get a COVID-19 vaccine. Tam said in an interview with CBC that it’s “critical” for public health to bring what she calls the “moveable middle,” or undecided Canadians, onside.
“I think that’s why it is a very key pillar of our approach in the days and weeks and months ahead, to be able to get that group of people the information that they need to get vaccinated,” she said.
“It is really important that as many people get vaccinated as possible to protect themselves,” Tam added, “but also others who are at higher risk.”
Alongside Health Canada’s commitment to study the data about the vaccines themselves, Tam said the government is preparing a multipronged campaign to inform the public about it. That includes working with social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, and even gaming platforms.
Canada’s public health team has learned that people who get their information via social media are less likely to get vaccinated than those who follow traditional media, Tam said. “So, we’ll be collaborating with similar platforms to get the message out to Canadians about the safety of the vaccine, and how the trials are going, and what happens in terms of the programmatic implementation as well.” (CBC)