Canadian experts say easier access to COVID-19 booster shots is needed 

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Easier access to COVID-19 vaccine boosters could be a way of addressing the plateauing rates of Canadians getting the shot, public health and immunology experts say.

Matthew Miller, professor at McMaster University’s Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, said some may see the roll back of public health measures throughout the country as a signal that they no longer need to be as cautious about COVID-19 infection.

“The idea that we’re past the worst of things I think leads to a certain amount of apathy,” Miller said.

“I think that’s also compounded by the fact that there are a significant proportion of people in the population that aren’t vaccine hesitant, but also aren’t super enthusiastic about getting vaccinated.”

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He said there was a sharp increase in immunization rates in Canada when governments brought in COVID-19 vaccination mandates.

“Now that those restrictions are also being dialed back and haven’t been applied to third doses, I think the incentive has just diminished,” Miller said.

“There is a certain segment of the population for whom I simply think it’s inertia and, without that sort of pressure point applied, they just aren’t that interested in going out of their way to get vaccinated, even though in principle they are willing.”

He said governments don’t have always have to resort to mandates to increase the uptake in vaccination rates. The answer can be eliminating barriers for some people.

“You have to make it ultraconvenient for people, because the people who are super vaccine enthusiastic, they’ve got their third shot,” Miller said.

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“The people who don’t have boosters yet don’t have them for a complex milieu of reasons, but the easiest people to catch ? are those for whom that the only thing that is preventing them getting it is a little of apathy.”

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Figures from the federal government show that about 57 per cent of Canadians 18 and older are fully vaccinated with an additional dose, while 47 per cent of the total population have received the COVID-19 booster.

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Newfoundland and Labrador, the province with the highest vaccinate rate in the country with 91 per cent of its population with two shots, has 55 per cent of its people with a third dose.

Dr. Theresa Tam, the national chief public health officer, has urged Canadians 18 and older to get boosted because of a recent surge of COVID-19 cases due to the more transmissible BA. 2 variant.

“Whether you call it the sixth wave or not ? there’s an increase which is being seen in most areas across Canada,” Tam said earlier this week.

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She said the booster is also recommended for those who have recently been infected with COVID-19.

Miller said the most vaccine apathy is among younger Canadians and governments should do more to make booster shots easily accessible to that demographic.

With the summer season approaching, he said mobile clinics can be set up again at outdoor events to help increase booster shot rates.

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Roman Pabayo, a professor at the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health, said there are still many barriers that prevent people from getting vaccinated.

He said a report from Statistics Canada released last month showed that about 86 per cent of people 12 and older were willing to get a booster shot _ a big difference from the percentage of Canadians who have received their third dose so far.

“So, if they are willing, we have to look at the barriers that are put in place,” Pabayo said.

Hours of operation for vaccine clinics or pharmacies, lack of transportation to those sites and even having inadequate child care can play a role in the plateauing booster rates, he said.

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“If accessibility is an issue, it’s important for us in public health to go to them,” Pabayo said.

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“For most people, with the acceptation of hardcore anti-vaxxers because their minds are set, it may just take a health professional to talk to them.”

But, he added, health professionals are burnt out.

“I like to think that we are reaching the end of the pandemic, but at the same time, people are exhausted,” Pabayo said.

“It’s not just the general population, but it’s the health-care professionals and public health as well.”

This week, Tam said initial efforts in booster campaigns were thwarted because many vaccinators were getting infected.

“We had an absenteeism from the health, public health and health system, so it’s not easy to increase access and making sure vaccines are accessible to all populations,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2022.

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