Sabrina Almeida

As news of Health Canada’s approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine broke on Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford tweeted, “Friends, the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter.” Other premiers and health officials immediately echoed his sentiments in public forums.  

The pandemic has held us hostage for almost ten months now and as we struggle with the brutal second wave, finally a scientific end to it is almost within arms reach.

I say almost for many reasons. The first being the trickle of 249,000 doses into Canada and second the prioritization of vulnerable groups for initial inoculation. This being a two-dose vaccine, only 124,500 vulnerable Canadians, will be initially vaccinated. 

Immunization  of the general population is likely to begin only in April, federal officials said. Which means many of us who have not had COVID-19 are still at risk of being infected and infecting our loved ones and others in the community. That’s why public health officials are pleading with us to continue following the guidelines.

That being said, the three to eight month period it may take to vaccinate all those who are willing, offers plenty of time for those who are sitting on the fence or don’t want to be inoculated to overcome their vaccine hesitancy.

From gene alerting to planting chips in our bodies, anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists have been spreading plenty of misinformation about the risks of potential COVID-19 vaccines while casting doubts on the severity of the coronavirus itself. But if you know someone who has lost a loved one to SARS-CoV-2 or suffered after contracting it, then you don’t need further proof of how deadly it can be. The fact that many young and healthy people have succumbed to this severe acute respiratory syndrome shows us that COVID-19 is not picky. 

Vaccine hesitancy is believed to be one of the main reasons Canada is not reaching targets for paediatric and adult immunization coverage. And vaccine efficacy, which some question, is largely dependent on how many people take it. Measles outbreaks are a classic example.

Statistics Canada data revealed in August that just over half of Canadians indicated that they are very likely (57.5%) to get a COVID-19 vaccine. This was markedly lower than a previous poll conducted between May 26 and June 8, 2020 which showed that just over two thirds of participants were very likely to take it. 

However, going by  a recent Ipsos/Radio-Canada poll conducted between November 20 and 25, a majority of Canadians still intend to get vaccinated against COVID-19, though many would prefer to wait at least a month or two after a vaccine is approved before doing so.  Of the 3,001 people the internet poll surveyed,  64 per cent said they would probably or certainly get vaccinated, while 16 per cent said they definitely would not. One-fifth of respondents were undecided.

The time taken to offer immunization to non-essential and non-vulnerable groups, gives us plenty of opportunity to improve our understanding of why we should take it.

Health Canada has already put out information about how the Pfizer vaccine works and the potential side effects on its website. It seems no different from other vaccines that we have taken in the past when science was less advanced and public information less accessible.

Hopefully forthcoming government campaigns addressing vaccine hesitancy will reassure and convince more Canadians to get on board. If we are to go by the StatCan poll mentioned above, immunizing half the country only gives us a 50% chance of fighting the coronavirus.

Perhaps the Ontario government’s plan to issue a ‘passport’ to those who take a COVID-19 vaccine and the probability of it becoming a  requirement for many purposes might also give the undecided a nudge. After all, if travel and workplaces required proof of COVID-19 immunization, most of us would have to comply. 

Health Minister Christine Elliott also says movie theatres and other places where people congregate could also make it a requirement. Long-term care homes and senior residences would certainly be justified in requiring visitors to be immunized.

Understandably there are questions and concerns this being a new vaccine. But  they should be addressed by health care practitioners, not uninformed people in our social circle or worse still fake news on the Internet and social media.

For me, it comes down to weighing the risks of taking the vaccine against that of contracting the coronavirus and not knowing how it will affect me and or the loved ones I will infect as a result of not being inoculated. The answer can’t be any clearer!

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