Canada’s Vaccine Campaign recently crushed it, with 80 percent of eligible Canadians getting at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, this statistic distracts from a troubling fact: More than six million Canadians have not had a single injection, just as experts have warned that we need more coverage to beat a potential surge in cases in the fall.
The campaign for the first dose vaccination now appears to have stalled, with fewer than 50,000 people getting a vaccine each day – down from a peak of more than 185,000 people last month – even though those doses are now available across the country.
CBC News spoke to some unvaccinated Canadians to find out more about the reluctance that prevailed in some pockets of the country.
Many people with disabilities say they are concerned about safety and side effects. Others say they are not satisfied with the current products on offer.
There are also practical considerations. A number of unvaccinated people suffer from a needle-related phobia that can make getting an injection a frightening experience. Some suffer from severe allergic reactions to the components of the vaccine. Some rural Canadians have had difficulty accessing.
Experts also note that 2 to 10 percent of the population is strongly against vaccinations — regardless of what public health officials say about the many benefits of getting a vaccine.
Nadina Smith graduated from Teachers College this spring and is feeling the pressure from family and friends to get a chance before classes begin in the fall.
Smith, who is from Alberta, told CBC News that she has done research on the science behind many COVID-19 vaccines and is more comfortable with a single dose of Johnson & Johnson, which uses more traditional viral vaccine technology.
These vaccines use a modified version of a different virus (the vector) to deliver instructions to cells, and are widely used to prevent infectious diseases such as influenza.
New technology versus old technology
Canada ordered the J&J syringe – 300,000 doses were delivered months ago – but there are no plans to use it as part of a vaccination campaign. Government officials said provinces and territories have not shown any interest in acquiring this product.
“I know that conventional vaccines haven’t been rated as fully effective in research — but I’m comfortable with this approach,” Smith said. “I’m glad to go in at this very moment to get it.”
Attention: what you can expect after the second dose of the vaccine
While mRNA products made by Pfizer and Moderna have been deemed safe and effective by Health Canada and other regulators after careful review of clinical trial data, Smith said she remains reluctant to accept a vaccine developed so quickly.
She said she’s not opposed to vaccines (describing herself not as “vaccine hesitant” but “mRNA vaccine hesitant”) but is concerned about the potential long-term effects of mRNA shots in particular, which use a relatively new technology.
“I don’t want to be a guinea pig”
“How do we know what kind of effect this will have on our bodies? Will I have a third eye in 20 years?” She said.
“I mean, I know I won’t have a third eye, but I’m just trying to explain what I mean. We don’t know what the potential long-term outcomes are.”
“The only thing that would affect me is if there was some kind of research or study of the long-term effects of COVID mRNA. For me, that’s a huge concern and I don’t want to be a guinea pig.”
Messenger RNA, or mRNA, directs protein production in cells throughout the body to stimulate an immune response and protect against infectious disease.
While an mRNA vaccine hasn’t been released to the market yet, mRNA vaccines have been tested in humans for at least four infectious diseases: rabies, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and Zika. No long-term side effects have been reported for these products.
Researchers have been studying mRNA technology and its potential for three decades. By pouring hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency funding from the US government and other sources, companies like Moderna and BioNTech (and partner BioNTech Pfizer) have turned a promising piece of molecular biology into a usable product that has been deployed to several hundred million people to great effect.
said Laurie Carty, a retiree from Prince Edward County, Ont. The actions of the National Immunization Advisory Committee (NACI) and Health Canada — two bodies that have sometimes given competing advice on vaccines, most notably on the AstraZeneca product — have called into question the safety of vaccines.
“It looks like they’re flying next to their seats, trying to figure things out as they go and there’s a lot of mixed information,” Carty said of federal health officials.
WATCH: PM, medical experts reassured on COVID vaccines
She said she has an appointment booked but keeps rescheduling because she’s not ready to commit.
“I want to make sure before I put that in my body because once it’s in there, there’s no going back,” Karti said.
“I’m not saying I’m an anti-vaccine person. I don’t have enough confidence. We don’t really know the long-term effects. There are a lot of questions and every day you read something different.”
Andriy Petriv is a long distance truck driver from the Toronto area. He said he and his wife contracted what they believe to be COVID-19 shortly after Christmas. While they have not been tested, Petrif said they have all the usual symptoms.
“I just don’t see the target.”
To satisfy his curiosity, he said, he recently took an antibody test to see if he had developed any immunity to COVID-19. The test, which is used to identify previous infections, showed that he had developed some antibodies to the virus.
“Since I’ve already had it, I don’t see the point of having a vaccine. It can be dangerous in some cases, and given the fact that I already have antibodies, why should I take the risk?” He said in an interview.
“If I have to take it, I’ll take it. I’m not afraid of vaccines. I just don’t see the point. Why put something in my body just to get a degree or something? If you’re not thirsty, why should you drink just to make someone happy?”
He said he’s also troubled by the fact that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has so far only given COVID-19 vaccines emergency use authorization, not “full approval” — a process that can sometimes take years. The FDA said full approval is coming.
Health experts stress that even people with pre-existing infections should get a vaccine. However, some jurisdictions – including Quebec, France, Germany and Italy – have been giving only one dose to anyone with a confirmed previous diagnosis.
“While you will have some immunity from a previous infection, it is still unclear how long and broad this immunity is,” said Dr. Kumanan Wilson, professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa.
“It is uncertain whether exposure to an earlier version or variant of the virus will protect you from new variants as powerfully as the vaccine.
Vaccine acceptance is increasing
Shannon MacDonald is an associate professor at the University of Alberta School of Nursing. Before starting the immunization campaign, she conducted a study on the acceptability of COVID-19 vaccines among the Canadian population.
I found, in general, that the vast majority of Canadians are not completely against vaccinations. In fact, less than 2 percent of Canadian parents reject childhood snapshots of their children.
Knowing little about the soon-to-be-published footage, 65 percent of Canadians surveyed in the McDonald’s study said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine once Health Canada approved the vaccine for use — a number she called “very encouraging.”
The number of people receiving the vaccine has steadily increased since the publication of that study.
“Unfortunately, the small percentage is quite noisy and there is a perception that they are bigger than they are. I think the focus is on people who have really legitimate questions – and when I say legitimate questions, I don’t mean their concerns are necessarily based,” MacDonald said in an interview.
Hacking cases are extremely rare
The best way to convince undecided, MacDonald said, is to show them data about how effective vaccines are at preventing infection.
For example, of the 403,149 cases of COVID-19 reported in Ontario between December 14, 2020 and July 10 this year, only 0.4 percent were called “breakthrough” cases – COVID infections. -19 in people who received their second injury. Dosing 14 days before.
About 4 percent of all cases reported in that seven-month period were in people who had only been partially vaccinated with one dose. The rest, of course, were not vaccinated
As of July 10, fewer than 18,200 of the 10,000,000 people who have received at least one dose so far in Ontario have contracted the virus – 16,358 have contracted the virus when they were only partially vaccinated, and 1,765 have been infected after two doses.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 97 percent of people recently hospitalized with COVID-19 are not immune.
MacDonald said that the very low number of negative effects should also underline the hesitation that these products are safe.
“The safety profile is impressively good,” she said. “You put the message on a billboard and it might get to some people, but for people who don’t trust the government, the drug companies, whatever, they need to hear the message from the people they trust. We have to get the message across there.
“All it takes is one case in your unvaccinated community and you are all at risk.”
According to Public Health Canada data, there were only 2,222 reported serious adverse events following vaccination in Canada as of July 9. This represented only 0.005 percent of all doses taken.
Despite these positive signs, MacDonald said the vaccination campaign will almost certainly run into a wall of entrenched hesitation.
And the fourth wave of cases, she said, may convince the unconvinced they are better off with a single injection. “You would hate to wait until you saw an outbreak to say, ‘Look at this what could happen.’ But that might be the case.”
Public health authorities still have to try to convince some of the unvaccinated, she said, but at some point, that energies may be better spent getting the partial vaccine back for that crucial second dose.
“Let’s focus on them instead of jumping through a hundred episodes trying to get a first dose of people who aren’t interested,” she said.