Canada could get stuck in COVID-19 cycle if vaccine hesitancy continues to grow -- and there's only one solution, medical experts say

While the battle with COVID-19 continues in Canada, hesitancy towards receiving the vaccine rises as many say they are against mandatory vaccinations.

In a survey conducted by Impact Canada in April 2020, 74 per cent of Canadians said they would get a safe vaccine if it became available or was recommended. This number saw a decline, hinting towards a bigger hesitancy in February of 2021, with only 58 per cent saying they would get vaccinated as soon as a vaccine became available to them.

In the survey, the leading cause of Canadians not wanting to get vaccinated was that not enough testing or research had been done.

“Using new technologies to develop some of the earliest vaccines that came on to the market and were being used within Canada caused a little bit of concern in some people because they weren’t really sure how proven the technologies were,” said Dr. Susy Hota, the Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at the University Health Network (UHN).

However, according to Dr. Hota, this was to be expected and trying to tackle the issue of vaccine hesitancy is a constant effort in the medical field.

“It takes a lot of work. Each time that you help to inform people, answer their questions, help them take matters into their own hands and make a decision around it, you get to a few people at a time. So it’s an ongoing thing.”

According to data collected by an EKOS Research, 35 per cent of Canadians say they are against mandatory vaccinations.

“We have patients that don’t believe in wearing a mask, and don’t believe in getting the vaccine either,” says Pauline Worsfold, a nurse from Edmonton and a chairperson of the Canadian Health Coalition. “I’ve had a few patients that have said, they don't trust the vaccine and it's their choice so they are not going to. Although, when I ask them if they have gotten flu shots in the past they always say yes.”

Canada could be stuck in COVID-19 cycle if things don't change

While the spread of misinformation and anti-vaccination propagandas are on a rise on social media platforms, Dr. Hota warns that movements like these can definitely hurt the containment of the virus.

“If people's willingness to get vaccinated diminishes over time, we're going to be stuck in a constant cycle of having too many sick people with COVID-19 to actually function as a society. We’ll see people unfortunately get sick and die from it,” says Dr. Hota, who sees vaccines as the best solution. “It is the way that we are going to protect people in this pandemic. Because treatments or therapeutics for COVID-19 are kind of lagging behind and we haven't really seen anything that's been a game changer in that front.”

According to Dr. Hota, it is easier to sway hesitant people to get vaccinated than it is to get anti-vaxxers to change their minds.

“Quite often those individuals have some fixed beliefs that are very firm and ingrained in deeper belief systems. Trying to get through there might be a little bit different and might require a different strategy.”

For nurse Worsfold, the attention given to the movement is only harmful to the goal of encouraging people to get vaccinated.

“The anti-mask people get an awful lot of airtime, as far as on the news and in print coverage. That kind of puts fuel in that fire,” says nurse Worsfold. “Vaccination will let us build back better, whether it’s the economy, whether it's healthcare. People will be back to work sooner, restaurants will be open sooner. We will all get back to some sense of normal, sooner.”

Currently the vaccination appointments are getting a lot of attention from Canadians, with all the slots being taken up in Ontario in two and a half hours, after being open to residents aged 18 and older on Tuesday, May 18.

Whether this eagerness will continue as the summer progresses still remains a question.