Roshelle Lawrence was worried about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
There were many reasons, she said.
“A lot of propaganda, of course, going around on social media. The fact that it was created so quickly, you know, something that wasn’t tested as long as some other vaccines have been tested. So all of those factors kind of contributed to me being a little hesitant and wary about taking the vaccine,” she said.
“It really did terrify me in a sense of just seeing all this different conflicting information, not being sure what to believe.”
But, she got her COVID-19 shot last week. What changed her mind was family: the fact that she wouldn’t be able to see her grandparents in a long-term care home if she wasn’t vaccinated was a big push, she said. A discussion with her pastor helped too.
“I just finally made the choice to muster up courage, go and just get the vaccine and just go with God, essentially.”
Lawrence wasn’t alone in her hesitancy.
Roughly 18 per cent of eligible Canadians still haven’t gotten a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to statistics from the COVID-19 Tracker Canada website. This number has hardly budged over the last few weeks.
That’s a problem because vaccines are essential to our pandemic response and we need as many people to get them as possible, said Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
“It’s critical,” she said.
“This is a highly infectious virus and when we have those pockets of people who are not vaccinated, they can obviously get sick, but they can continue the spread of the virus to other people, especially people who are vulnerable.”
As we get into a fourth wave of COVID-19, she said, we’re going to see the effects on those who haven’t gotten their shots.
“They call it the ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated,’” she said. “The vast majority of people that will get COVID will be the unvaccinated people. So, adults who continue to be unvaccinated or under-vaccinated and children under the age of 12 that are not eligible for vaccination right now.”
But according to a June survey by Environics, 18 per cent of Canadians are hesitant about getting the vaccine. Those Canadians are spread across the country in cities and rural areas, and across gender, age and racial groups, according to Andrew Parkin, executive director of the Environics Institute for Survey Research.
However, in February, the number was more like 25 per cent, he said. “It has been shown that the efforts of our frontline workers and our public health officials are working and people are moving from the hesitant side to the to the other side.”
Some, like Colin Gray, remain unconvinced. The 57-year-old from St. Thomas, Ont., says he’s not anti-vaccine, he’s gotten other vaccinations in the past — but he doesn’t think this shot has been sufficiently tested.
“I like the idea that it stops severe reactions, but we have no idea of the long-term effects. None whatsoever,” he said.
Gray wants to wait at least a year to get his shot, to see whether additional side effects develop. Even if businesses or governments — like Quebec has — decide that he needs to be vaccinated to travel, or to go out to dinner at a restaurant, he said he won’t be swayed.
“My life and my health is far more important than a vacation,” he said.
Sabina Vohra-Miller, founder of Unambiguous Science, says she hears concerns like Gray’s a lot while running workshops and Q&As for people about vaccination.
“I spend a lot of time trying to actually explain how your immune system works and how do vaccines tap into that, because all the grunt work is done by your own body,” she said.
Vaccines cause your body to develop an immune response, she said, and after about eight weeks, there is actually very little of the vaccine left in you.
“In the first couple of weeks, we want to see how your body, your immune system reacts to the vaccine. But once that initial immune response is done, there’s really nothing left over of the vaccines to be able to cause any long term impacts or side effects,” she said. “So the reason why you do long term studies for vaccines is actually not really for safety, but it’s really more to understand how long immunity lasts with the vaccines.”
There is a lot of misinformation out there and people often don’t know who to trust, she said. Addressing their worries about the vaccines and pointing them to good sources of information can help to change minds, she said, as does treating them with respect.
“Telling someone flat out that they’re wrong is just going to make them dig in their heels even more,” Vohra-Miller said.
“When you speak with someone who is still unvaccinated, the first thing you need to do is ask them why, what their concerns are, really understand what their concerns are, because if you don’t know what their questions and concerns are, you’re not going to be able to address them.”