Advocates call for targeted approach to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in Canada

While many health-care workers eagerly wait for their turn to get the COVID-19 vaccine, not everyone is enthusiastic. Medical experts say vaccine hesitancy is an issue that is playing out across Canada.

Advocates like Sabina Vohra-Miller are calling on the government to take steps to find solutions that come from a place of transparency and understanding. Her foundation focuses on addressing inequalities in the health-care system.

Vohra-Miller spends hours talking to people about vaccines. She said she understands why many people are skeptical.

“If you feel as if your life is not valued, how do you trust that your life will be taken care of?” Vohra-Miller said. “We are not talking about an anti-vaxxer who is against all vaccines, we are talking about people who are genuinely anxious and afraid of the vaccine.”

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Dr. Amy Tan, a palliative care and family physician from Victoria, B.C., said new data suggests people from underrepresented communities make up a good portion of those who are concerned.

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“Those in racialized or Indigenous communities were much more hesitant to trust or want the COVID-19 vaccine than those who were not,” Tan said.

Experts said it is important to not dismiss vaccine fears, and that the best course of action is an approach based in compassion and education.

Joe Hester, the executive director for Anishnawbe Health Toronto, said many people in his community are worried about going to the hospital because of fear of maltreatment.

“It’s largely historical kind of situation, where our people have historically experienced not-so-nice things,” Hester said, “(including) experimentation done on our people of various sorts.”

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Advocates say there are simple ways officials can build trust while addressing vaccine fears.

“What we really must do is engage with community health organizations on the ground level,” Vohra-Miller said.

Hester said he believes his community will have greater confidence in the process if people they trust are involved in the services, including administering shots when the time comes.

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Tan said building that trust will be a key factor in charting a course for success when it comes to COVID-19, because time is of the essence, and numbers are a matter of life and death.

“Until 70 per cent of the population is vaccinated, but especially those who are high risk, this is not over until all of us are taken care of,” Tan said.

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