A team of researchers at the University of Calgary has created an online portal they hope will help family physicians when speaking to those who are COVID-19 vaccine-hesitant.
The Vaccine Hesitancy Guide comes at a time when Alberta has among the lowest vaccination rates in the country. As of Sunday, just under 68 per cent of the eligible population in the province was fully vaccinated.
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“Now we’re at the stage where it matters,” said principal investigator and public policy professor Myles Leslie.
“These are going to be the hard-won commitments. This is going to be the tough stuff and it is done one by one by one… For every extra person we can get, you get that little bit more. It’s four times the amount of effort for just a tiny bit of advance but we need to be into this phase as well.”
The guide, which was developed with input from family physicians in Alberta and across the country, helps users navigate different issues related to vaccine hesitancy, ranging from trauma due to previous health-care experiences to no concerns about the pandemic to vaccine safety concerns. It offers tailored advice on how to address those concerns.
“The guide is built on the idea hesitancy comes from different places and you need to have different conversations when it comes to different places,” Leslie said.
“These are very difficult, highly emotional places that people come from and they need to be addressed differently than, ‘Hey, here is a pamphlet with more information.’”
Content lead Raad Fadaak, who is also a research associate in the school of public policy at the University of Calgary, said the goal was to have a dynamic and interactive tool.
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“Something you could pull out a phone, something you could pull out a tablet, you could go to your desktop… I think the digital format has been really important for delivering messaging around COVID vaccines,” he said. “The more you clicked, the deeper you wanted to go into a particular area, the more progressive the information would be shown to you.
“We didn’t want to overload people, just like we don’t want to overload patients with a bunch of pamphlets and scientific information and stuff.”
The portal also includes specific advice from clinicians to other clinicians on how to approach patients.
“That affirming language about how difficult these conversations can be – it’s really important to supporting clinicians as they were going through these challenging conversations with their patients,” said Fadaak.
So far, the researchers said there have been 50,000 visits since the portal launched in July.
Leslie said the guide was designed for family physicians since they are the most likely health-care professional a patient will seek out and they often have established relationships with patients.
“You don’t always accept their advice but you at least go to them for advice,” he said.
Leslie stresses the approach with these conversations is not confrontational; rather, the guide is built on motivational interviewing, which is based on finding out what motivates people.
“Motivational interviewing meets people where they are, meets them with the concerns they have and works with not just the negative side… but tries to work with their positive motivations as well,” he said.
“It is a guide to vaccine hesitancy. It is not a how-to manual for convincing people. This is not a used car salesmen convention on how to do this better. It’s a guide to having a better conversation.”
Nicole Pinto, content lead on the guide as well as a research associate in the school of public policy, said the team has already been contacted by clinicians in Ontario who are interested in using it.
Though the guide was developed in Alberta, it can be used across the country, she said.
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“We’ve actually had quite a bit of positive feedback. A lot of clinicians said they’ve been looking for similar resources, have just needed help in this space of trying to navigate these conversations,” said Pinto.
Pinto said the team is working to ensure the guide is updated as things evolve and that it can be adapted in the future to address other types of conditions facing vaccine hesitancy.