OTTAWA — Canadian military personnel have come forward in droves to be vaccinated for COVID-19, with the Department of National Defence reporting more than 85 per cent of all troops having received at least one dose.
That stands in contrast to an apparent rash of vaccine hesitancy in the United States military, where some reports have suggested as many as one-third of American troops have declined to get a shot.
Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier says the majority of unvaccinated Canadian service members haven’t declined to get a jab, they just haven’t had an opportunity to bare their arms.
“A significant portion of currently unvaccinated personnel appear to be those who might be on various forms of leave or in more remote locales with limited access,” he said. “As things stand, we are quite happy with our members’ acceptance of vaccines.”
Armed Forces members have been receiving shots through the military’s healthcare system rather than from the provinces or territories where they live, with the federal government having set aside tens of thousands of doses specifically for them.
Troops are not required to get vaccinated, but military leaders have encouraged them to do so to protect themselves. The same is true in the United States, where commanders have started to offer days off and other incentives to get shots in arms.
Those incentives have been at least partially credited with a recent uptick in the number of American service members who have been vaccinated, but there remain ongoing concerns about the large number that have decided not to get jabbed.
While there is no one reason why American troops are more reluctant to get a shot than their Canadian counterparts, Carleton University professor Steve Saideman believes the level of vaccine politicization in the U.S. is a major factor.
“In the United States, there are folks on the right side of the political spectrum who think that doing this kind of thing would be contrary to their identity,” said Saideman, who is also director of the Canadian Defence and Security Network. “That they’re not a good Republican if they wear masks and if they get a shot.”
Saideman compares that to Canada, where leaders on all sides of the political spectrum have made a point of encouraging Canadians to get vaccinated, including Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Alberta counterpart Jason Kenny.
“So even the folks who have been on the right, … they’ve been leading or at least modeling the right behavior in terms of taking getting the shots,” he said. “In the United States is a much more mixed thing.”
Canadian Armed Forces members are also being vaccinated faster than the rest of the general population, with only half of Canadian residents having received at least one dose.
But only about five per cent of military members have been fully vaccinated with two shots, a figure on par with the general population where just over four per cent are fully immunized.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2021.