Now that Canadians are getting used to the idea that effective vaccines to fight COVID-19 are a reality, we move on to answering the next big question: when can we expect to receive them?
And there’s an emerging mismatch between what Canadians are expecting and what our federal and provincial governments appear ready to deliver.
Nearly three-quarters of Canadians now say they would get vaccinated against COVID-19 without hesitation, according to an Ipsos poll. That’s up 20 points since November.
Our research suggests there are three reasons Canadians are now more willing to get vaccinated than they were even a couple of months ago.
The first is that early adopters have shown the new vaccines to be safe. Second, the recent spate of lockdowns has reminded us of the consequences of not being able to control COVID-19. Third, we want our lives back and most of us now believe this will be helped with a significant level of vaccination in the Canadian population.
This is a whipsaw transition in what many authorities and experts thought would be the biggest challenge facing public vaccination — vaccine hesitancy.
Authorities and experts were right to be concerned about the public being reluctant to get vaccinated. Social media and the dark corners of the Internet are full of conspiracy theories about the motivations behind mass vaccination and the potential risks of being vaccinated.
As recent events south of the border show, we ignore digital sophists and their deluded believers at our peril.
Until recently, the polling supported the view that vaccine hesitancy would be a significant challenge. But we were wrong about what was driving it. It wasn’t online conspiracy theories. It was what reasonable people didn’t know about vaccine safety that caused them to be hesitant.
In November, 70 per cent of us said we were worried about the speed at which new vaccines have been approved and their potential health risks, both immediate and longer-term.
For the more cautious parts of the Canadian population, this was an honest, logical reaction to an information and experience deficit. We simply didn’t know what we needed to know to make the decision to get vaccinated.
As Ipsos’s most recent polling for Global News shows, 72 per cent of Canadians — or about 22 million Canadian adults — are now ready to get a vaccine tomorrow. We are on the verge of a vaccine stampede. Barring significant incidents of vaccine side effects, this number will only grow as it has since December when vaccinations began.
Surveys Ipsos has done around the world show a similar phenomenon in many countries. Hesitancy is moving to immediacy everywhere and a global stampede for access to vaccines is gaining speed.
As is now becoming clear, the vaccines Canada has under contract are slated to arrive slowly at first, but will come faster through the year. Yes, we have contracted lots of doses from multiple suppliers, but they won’t get here tomorrow.
Even when they get here, several provincial governments have had trouble efficiently getting them out to the public.
Canadians are content for now to wait for the most essential and most vulnerable among us to go first. But this patience won’t last.
At some point, Canadians will begin to wonder when their turn will come. That’s when the questions about how vaccines have been managed by our public authorities will get sharper.
Sure, Ottawa has been clear since December that the fall is their deadline and all provinces have said they have plans for efficient distribution.
But if other countries — especially the United States — are moving faster than this, don’t be surprised if the patience of Canadians doesn’t last until September.
Darrell Bricker is CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs and the author of NEXT: Where to Live, What to Buy, and Who Will Lead Canada’s Future (Harper Collins, 2020).