(Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
The proportion of Saskatchewan residents willing to receive available COVID-19 vaccines has plateaued at around 80 per cent in recent weeks, a new online survey suggests.
Between Dec. 29 and Jan. 13 — a week after Phase 1 of the province's vaccination program began — 81.6 per cent of people surveyed said they would take a vaccine.
Four weeks later, between Jan. 29 and Feb. 2, the percentage shifted only slightly to 80.3 per cent, according to the survey by the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit (SPHERU).
The numbers could be better, said Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, which partnered with the University of Regina to produce the survey.
"It would be great to see it at 85, 90 per cent," he said. "There is still misinformation and disinformation about vaccines in certain parts in our society and on social media."
The results were captured in an online survey devised by the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina.
The latest survey results come as part of an ongoing SPHERU study on COVID-19 and behaviour.
Since May 2020, SPHERU has been surveying approximately 1,000 adults aged 18 and older every month.
The people surveyed each month weren't the same group, so the overall findings reflect the views of over 7,000 people, Muhajarine said.
While some people in rural areas were quizzed, the survey mostly captured the views of people living in cities or larger communities.
Some people volunteered to take the survey while others were randomly selected, Muhajarine said.
Because the survey does not involve a truly random sample of respondents, a margin of error can't be assigned.
Initially, people were asked if they would be willing to take a vaccine and were given three options to answer: yes, no, or "don't know."
"We interpreted 'don't know' as 'not enough information,' [or] 'haven't decided,'" Muhajarine said. "It could also be interpreted, and we had interpreted it, as hesitancy as well."
In the last two months, the survey began also asking subjects why they either said no or were undecided.
In May 2020, 84 per cent of respondents said they would take a vaccine. The proportion of people saying yes gradually began to decline, up to late September.
"This sort of reflects actually what we know about the vaccine development there, how it was done, how quickly it was done," Muhajarine said.
"There were concerns about whether enough testing has been done — whether there's any sort of cutting corners, if you will — and of course, in a lot of misinformation about vaccines as well during this time."
Announcements late in the year that the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were nearing the end of their clinical trials sent the willingness numbers in the survey back on an upward trajectory, Muhajarine said.
"Now, the vaccine is a reality. It was not just a possibility."
Province not tracking number of refusals
As of Thursday, 50,465 Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses had been administered throughout the province.
It's not known how many people who were offered a vaccine have refused to take it.
"We don't have a provincial tracking process for refusals," a spokesperson for the Saskatchewan Health Authority said.
Premier Scott Moe promotes mass COVID-19 vaccination at a news conference on Thursday.
Provincial health officials have repeatedly stressed that if a person initially refuses a vaccine, they can always signal later that they have changed their minds.
"As we march back to a normal life in this province, the best thing that we can do is to get vaccinated, to plan to get vaccinated when it is your turn," Premier Scott Moe said Thursday.
Moe has also repeatedly expressed his disappointment with the slowing of vaccine shipments to Saskatchewan, as seen elsewhere, in recent weeks.