Calgary Muslim youth spread awareness on COVID-19 vaccines

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A group of Muslim youth in Calgary is launching a webinar series on Saturday to raise awareness and help debunk myths about COVID-19 vaccines. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports – May 8, 2021

A group of Muslim youth in Calgary is launching a webinar series on Saturday to raise awareness and help debunk myths about COVID-19 vaccines.

The series will be hosted by doctors, faith leaders, community groups and medical students.

It’s called the “I Don’t Trust the COVID Vaccine.”

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Its aim is to discuss vaccine hesitancy and misinformation from scientific, spiritual and cultural perspectives.

When University of Calgary second-year medical student Sana Jawad saw social media posts indicating fears about COVID-19 vaccines circulating in Calgary’s Muslim community, she decided to take action.

“I thought as a medical student and as a Muslim myself that I need to do something about this,” Jawad said.

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So she collaborated with the Akram Jomaa Islamic Centre to create a vaccine awareness webinar.

“Our target audience is people who have a lot of misinformation and misconceptions about the vaccines, primarily within marginalized populations, especially within the Muslim population,” said Assad Chaudhary, youth programs co-ordinator with Akram Jomaa Islamic Centre.

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Speakers include not only health experts but prominent Calgary Imam Sheikh Fayaz Tilly.

“Initially, it might seem that an imam doesn’t have a role in talking about vaccines, but I think they really do have an important role because they are such trusted members of the community,” Jawad said.

“It’s really not about the Muslim community because these issues are prevalent in every community. It’s more about taking that unique approach with this community.”

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‘Mixed messages’

Calgary epidemiologist Dr. Mukarram Zaidi is taking part in the webinar. He said vaccine hesitancy in Alberta can be traced back to last year when Alberta was the only province to not have a provincial mask mandate. Zaidi also points to UCP MLAs speaking out against more stringent restrictions.

Read more: 17 UCP MLAs revolt against Alberta government’s renewed COVID-19 restrictions

“Vaccine hesitancy is a major concern,” said Zaidi, who is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine.

“It’s because of the mixed messages people are getting from their leaders. We see mixed messages within our province. We see people coming out to protest in numbers, and they are not clamped down, and there are events like the rodeo we had last week.”

Read more: Premier condemns large gathering at weekend rodeo as Alberta sees record number of COVID-19 cases

Organizers of the education campaign stress this is not a “Muslim” problem but one that can be attributed to gaps in immigrant health literacy caused by systemic health barriers.

The hope is to be able to get more of the vaccine-hesitant on board as the message comes from messengers people can trust.

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The first event runs on Saturday, May 8 from 6-7 p.m.

Read more: Alberta-wide mask mandate would create backlash, Premier Kenney says

The North East Islamic Center (Akram Jomaa Youth Council) and Muslim Medical Association of Canada (MMAC) Calgary Chapter are jointly hosting the public webinar.

Partners for the event include Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, Alberta International Medical Graduate Association, Pakistan Canada Association Calgary and other Islamic centres across the city.

More information can be found on the Akram Jomaa and MMAC Facebook pages.

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