Even if every eligible Canadian is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, more than two-thirds of people in the country believe that won’t be enough to stop the spread of the virus’ Omicron variant, according to the results of a new survey.
Results from a poll about COVID-19 vaccination conducted by Ipsos Global Public Affairs on behalf of Global News were released on Friday. The survey saw respondents raise skepticism about vaccines’ ability to stop the fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic and also express concern about potential long-term effects of booster shots.
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Darrell Bricker, the CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, said his firm’s polling indicates to him that while many Canadians still believe there are benefits to being vaccinated against COVID-19, a growing number are starting to question to what degree they’ll be able to bring about an end to the pandemic.
“There’s a growing skepticism about whether or not it will ever get us past this,” he told Global News.
“The idea that this is the one solution to whatever this problem is, it seems to be getting less credible over time. (It is) still very credible, the majority still believe it, but then we get into the situation of how many vaccines is enough and what will be the long-term implications.”
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The survey found 67 per cent of Canadians agree (20 per cent strongly agree and 47 per cent somewhat agree) that they are beginning to worry that even if everyone is vaccinated, it won’t be enough to stop Omicron’s progress.
However, the poll also saw 68 per cent of respondents say they agree (41 per cent strongly and 27 per cent somewhat) with mandatory vaccination for all Canadians who are eligible. Men (73 per cent) were more likely than women (64 per cent) to hold this opinion, the survey found. The polling results also indicated the older that Canadians are, the more likely they are to support mandatory vaccination.
“What we’re seeing is Canadians hold a lot of contradictory opinions… about boosters and vaccines,” Bricker said. “Even though they don’t know that it’s actually going to put the pandemic behind us, what they do believe is that it makes people safer.”
In terms of various regions of the country, people in Atlantic Canada (83 per cent) were the most in favour of mandatory vaccines while the notion received the least support in Alberta (61 per cent).
READ MORE: COVID-19: Alberta ‘will not revisit’ mandatory vaccination: Kenney
As of Jan. 20, nearly 88 per cent of all Canadians five and older had received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 81.42 per cent were fully vaccinated and 36.65 per cent had received a booster.
The Ipsos survey found 77 per cent of Canadians agree they would take a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot without hesitation or have already done so. Of various age categories, those between the ages of 18 and 34 were most likely to disagree that they would get a booster shot without hesitation.
About 68 per cent of respondents said they agree (31 per cent strongly and 37 per cent somewhat) that booster shots lessen their chance of contracting COVID-19. About 76 per cent said they also agree a booster shot would lower the chance of ending up in hospital with the coronavirus.
READ MORE: Do we need booster shots to fight Omicron? Experts divided
Despite the overall support respondents expressed for vaccines and booster shots, about 56 per cent said they agree that they have concerns about booster shots’ potential long-term effects and how many more they will need in the future. That concern was more prevalent among younger adults than older ones.
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“Even people who are supportive of vaccines, when you ask them if they’re prepared to get another one, and what the long-term consequences of getting vaccines are, that’s where you start to see some skepticism start to bubble to the surface,” Bricker said. “So this issue is starting to get more complicated.
“It’s not as easy as just anti-vax or pro-vax anymore, a lot of conditions are being built into this and people are starting to evaluate the effectiveness of vaccines.”
Future of vaccination against COVID-19
The survey results were released as some parts of the country are just beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the fifth wave of the pandemic. Others continued to be mired in surging numbers of Omicron cases and subsequent hospitalizations.
READ MORE: Omicron variant cases declining in Kingston, according to medical officer of health
With at least the prospect of emerging from the fifth wave on the minds of many Canadians, some are asking questions about whether a fourth dose of a vaccine will become recommended for the average person and whether more and more booster shots will be expected in the future.
“It’s not quite clear what the future of COVID-19 vaccines will look like,” said Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist based out of the Toronto General Hospital.
“What’s clear is we know that two doses are really good, especially with Omicron, but three doses is better, and all the data is pointing in that direction that three doses can help still reduce people’s risk of actually getting this infection and having symptomatic infection.
“There’s a couple of theories, you know, maybe we don’t need anything else above and beyond… Maybe we need a vaccine once per year, similar to the influenza vaccine. Maybe we need a booster dose in two or three years when a variant emerges that escapes some of the protective immunity that we’ve built up.”
READ MORE: Will you need a yearly COVID-19 booster shot? Some scientists aren’t so sure
Bogoch said what is clear to him at this point is the importance of making decisions on a vaccination strategy based on high-quality data — and what benefits we already know full immunization and a booster can offer.
“Two doses and three doses does a lot of heavy lifting, keeping people out of hospital and out of the ICU, preventing death — with three doses looking like it edges out two doses. Great,” he said. “Where do we go from here? It’s not entirely clear.”
Bogoch said once Canada begins to emerge from the pandemic’s fifth wave, research will help to determine what if any additional jabs are needed and whether they should be strain-specific, a regular interval of boosters or the possibility of a dose that remains potent longer.
He reiterated that while there are a number of approaches Canada and the world can take regarding vaccination going forward, being guided by thorough research is paramount.
“The answer is not known just yet. Those are answerable questions, and we need good quality data to help address those questions,” he said.
“I think it’s ridiculous to think that we should be getting a vaccine every four or six months, you know, indefinitely. That’s obviously unrealistic and silly. We also have to think about vaccinating the world too.”
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Bogoch added that when fine-tuning a vaccine strategy going forward, establishing goals will continue to be important.
“Are we trying to prevent all infections or are we trying to prevent hospitalization and death? Clear goals and good data, I think, are the two key elements.”
Allison McGeer, an infectious disease physician with the Sinai Health System, said adjusting Canada’s vaccine strategy is almost certainly going to be necessary moving forward, but she is not sure yet what direction public health officials will move in.
“What we know at the moment is that with the variants so far, including Omicron, the first two doses of vaccine have been really effective at reducing severity of illness,” she said. “Maybe not as much as we need in total in people who are over 60 or over 70. We’re still seeing hospitalizations and and some deaths in that group of people. But certainly infinitely better.”
She said once the fifth wave comes to an end, there will be the people who are fully immunized, those with booster shots, immunocompromised people and those living in long-term care with fourth doses and “a whole lot more people who’ve been infected and have antibodies for being infected.”
“And then we’ll need to assess sort of where we are and we’ll need to see what happens with new variants,” McGeer said. “And those two things will help us with where we’re going. The third thing that I think we need to be thinking about is that it’s looking like with many vaccines, you may lose protection over time.
“And so we need to be watching very carefully to know whether if you get your third dose of vaccines, it’s going to hold, you’re going to be protected well over the longer period of time.”
READ MORE: Study finds Pfizer, Moderna vaccine immunity lasts longer. Do we still need booster shots?
She said researchers may look at whether waning potency is an issue with MRNA vaccines and whether that may prompt a push to seek out a different kind of vaccine.
“This a pandemic where I know it feels like forever, but we’re only two years into it,” McGeer said.
“We’re still learning about what the best vaccine strategies are. They are likely to change over time.”
Shehzad Iqbal is the country medical director for Moderna and based in the Toronto area. He also said that with COVID-19 being such a new disease, “it’s difficult for everybody to really predict exactly where this is going.”
He said one way of trying to think about what the future may hold for how the world deals with COVID-19 is to think about what life may be like once the pandemic shifts to an endemic phase.
“As we’re moving out of this sort of crisis phase … then you start to think about what does this look like in the future?” Iqbal said. “And that could potentially be more like other respiratory-type viruses like the flu. So you’re setting yourself up for most likely trying to control the worst of the disease, and that usually tends to happen in the winter months.
“And that basically means from a vaccination standpoint, we’re probably looking at getting an annual sort of seasonal-type vaccine as a booster.”
READ MORE: Omicron variant complicates what a COVID-19 endemic will look like
Iqbal said that one question that is always there is how to create a vaccine that can “account for all of the strains that the virus itself might mutate into.” He added that work is ongoing to ensure vaccines don’t lose their potency over time.
“It’s been two years of this, and I think it’s important for people to understand, you know, the light is at the end of the tunnel. We’re getting there,” he said.
“So hopefully, this will become something of the past and very soon.”
Bogoch said people need to understand that when it comes to the future of vaccines, no vaccine and no approach will be perfect.
“There’s no perfect study, there’s no perfect data,” he said. “We know COVID(-19) isn’t going anywhere. We know there will be subsequent waves of infection. Hopefully, they don’t impact our society as significantly as previous waves, but we know that this virus is not going away.
“We have tools to protect ourselves and to protect the community — how best to use those tools? I think we should just be open-minded that there’s multiple potential routes forward.”
“Really, where we’re going from here is still very much open,” McGeer said. “There’s a number of different possibilities.”
METHODOLOGY: The Ipsos poll was conducted between Jan. 14 and Jan. 17, 2022, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 1,001 Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed online via the Ipsos I-Say Panel and non-panel sources. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the Canadian population according to census parameters. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians aged 18+ been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.