Getting front line staff vaccinated for COVID-19 remains a top priority in the effort to get the pandemic under control. Those who work in long term care homes are being offered the vaccine, but not everyone is willingly rolling up their sleeves.
Union representatives for personal support workers said some of their members have been offered the vaccine, and have simply decided not to get the shot.
Miranda Ferrier is the CEO of the Canadian Support Workers Association. She said generally, her members feel strongly one way or the other.
“We have the PSWs who are rushing to the front of the line in order to receive their vaccinations, and we have the PSWs who feel like guinea pigs and who don’t want to have the vaccination,” Ferrier said. “Many of them have stated that they have denied getting the vaccination and that they’ve said no.”
Tara Moriarty, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto, said “every single hour that we delay vaccinations is going to cost lives.” However, she said she recognizes many people have questions they need answered before they feel comfortable getting the shot.
In an effort to help address those fears, Moriarty has started nightly zoom calls, and has extended the invitation to the wider public. She is focused on connecting with people who work or interact with those in long term care or retirement homes.
“Many people, don’t feel like they have the information they need to make a quick decision about whether to be vaccinated or not,” Moriarty said. “These sessions help address those concerns in a safe way.”
Some doctors said the hesitancy is often based on a complex combination of systemic distrust and the lack of information.
“We know that unfortunately Black and indigenous communities have had a long documented history of abuse in our healthcare system,” family physician Dr. Anjali Bhayana said. “They can be understandably skeptical. These histories do need to be acknowledged in any roll out of the vaccine.”
Physicians said government officials should be doing more to address these hesitancies in their vaccine roll out strategies, and that right now the communication around the vaccine is not clear enough. Palliative care and family physician Dr. Amy Tan said this must be a priority going forward in order for the vaccine rollout to work.
“We need to be engaging with support workers with health care aides, to say what are your concerns, has there been data on your racialized community, show them the data as to safety,” Tan said. “Until we do that and not vilify them, for having distrust, we are not going to actually get over the vaccine hesitancy, and yes the factor is that our Long term care homes are not going to be as safe.”