Jennifer Jorgensen is counting down the days till the coronavirus vaccine becomes available in Canada.
“Absolutely,” the 47-year-old from the small village of Fruitvale, B.C., told Global News when asked if she would take the shot.
“Because when you have a 22-year-old daughter with type 1 diabetes and a dad with a heart condition, you’ll do whatever it takes to keep everyone safe,” she said.
Health Canada officially approved Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday, with a limited rollout set to begin to priority groups next week and vaccination of the general population anticipated to start in April.
With parts of the country again under lockdown and hospitals strained with COVID-19 patients across provinces amid a second wave of the virus, news of an eagerly awaited vaccine has brought some relief and optimism, but also anxiety about the unknown.
In a new poll last month, conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies, nearly 70 per cent of Canadians said they plan to get inoculated against the novel coronavirus once it’s approved and available.
An Ipsos survey, carried out exclusively for Global News, also found that 61 per cent of respondents support mandatory vaccination for COVID-19.
Experts say one of the main motivators for people to get a vaccine is to protect themselves, their loved ones and others around them.
“I don’t want myself or any more people to get sick and die,” Sheri Dusseault, 61, of Chemainus, B.C., told Global News.
After months of lockdowns, restrictions and fatigue from the pandemic, Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto, said a major secondary reason for getting vaccinated is a return to normalcy.
“We’ve got to move forward as a society,” Bowman said.
“Many of us want our lives back.”
For cancer survivor Karyn Methven, it is not a matter of choice, she says. The 51-year-old from Delta, B.C., told Global News she is “going to have to” take the vaccine.
“My immune system is compromised, and if I get COVID, I’m pretty much assured not to survive,” she said.
According to the U.S. CDC, having a weakened immune system may put you at a greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
Paula Schuck, a 52-year-old writer from London, Ont., has Crohn’s disease, which also puts her in the high-risk category. Her 16-year-old daughter has special needs and gets bronchitis almost every year, she says.
A vaccine is the “only option for our family,” Schuck told Global News.
“We have all sacrificed a lot this year. It’s time to get the vaccine which has been approved by Health Canada.”
Vaccine hesitancy and ‘nudges’
In the initial stages, up to 249,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine are expected this year, according to the federal government.
Health Canada announced its approval of the vaccine after reviewing clinical trial data submitted by Pfizer and BioNTech, deeming the vaccine safe for use.
Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical advisor with the regulatory branch of Health Canada, assured Canadians they “absolutely should feel comfortable getting the vaccine,” following a thorough approval process.
However, there are still concerns among sections of the population.
Peter Hall, professor of public health at the University of Waterloo, said although the vast majority of Canadians are expected to get the vaccine, “even if 10 to 20 per cent do not get vaccinated, this is a concern.”
“Most vaccine hesitancy is driven by a few reasons, but one of the more prominent reasons is concerns about it having some kind of negative effect or maybe misunderstanding that it has not been tested,” he told Global News.
A lower level of trust in science or scientific literacy can also cause vaccine hesitancy, Hall added.
Abbigale, 22, from St. Albert, Alta., said she was “nervous about the fast-tracking” to get the vaccine ready within months. Yet her worries about COVID-19 trump her hesitancy surrounding its vaccine.
“But I am personally much more nervous. We don’t know enough yet about who it affects or the long-term effects.”
Bowman said to build trust with the public, it was important for the government to offer clear and concise information about the vaccine: how it works, what we know, and what we don’t know.
While there are no plans to mandate the newly approved coronavirus vaccine in Canada, the province of Ontario is looking into providing immunized Ontarians a document or card to prove it.
“Nudges” without necessarily mandating the vaccine and being coercive can be helpful, Hall said.
In practical terms, this would mean making immunization easy and convenient to access for people, and making information about its safety and efficacy prominent, he said.
“Also, trying to anticipate and respond to some concerns in advance can reduce hesitancy.”
— With files from Carolyn Jarvis, Global News
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