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Letter: The Covid vaccine and misinformation

Pharmaceutical companies around the world have gone out of their way to develop and test viable vaccines to fight Covid-19,. Meanwhile, the negative reaction to the idea of a vaccine by much of the public is alarming and troubling. 

A recent UK opinion poll found one third of the public unlikely to take the vaccine. Forty per cent had concerns over safety, while an even higher number, fifty-five per cent, were concerned about possible side effects.

In the US, a December poll determined forty per cent of the population would not be willing to take the vaccine when it becomes available. 

Here, in Canada, a recent poll suggested the proportion of Canadians planning to be vaccinated for Covid has risen after Pfizer’s initial results of the company’s vaccination trials. But respondents planning to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus still stand only at sixty-nine per cent.

Once approved by Health Canada, the vaccine will be broadly available and free to the public. Although the number has increased from sixty-three per cent over a month ago, there remains a substantial number of Canadians who do not see the relevance of such a vaccine during this pandemic.

In late October, Global News reported in its poll carried out by Ipsos, that fifty-four per cent of Canadians would take the vaccine, but of that number only twenty-two per cent felt strongly about taking the vaccine immediately. These polls and surveys did not indicate what percent of those respondents also did not believe in wearing a face mask.

In addition, now there is an online petition spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. Over 25,000 Canadians have signed this petition, demanding “citizen vaccine safety advocates” be allowed to review vaccine applications. What is also significant is that the petition is supported by Conservative MP Derek Sloan who compares vaccine trials- in his words, to “human experimentation”.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu has been critical of the Conservative MP sponsoring such a petition. She sees the petition “extremely fear-driven”. The Minster added, “It’s unfortunate to see politicians utilize their power to provide misinformation to Canadians, when what Canadians need is clear, concise, science-based evidence.” 

“Vaccine hesitancy is real, and certainly I would hope that elected officials would not contribute to peoples’ fear of science-based public health advice and guidance,” the minister added. Hajdu emphasizes that health regulators and experts are in charge of decisions about vaccines as well as other health measures around the coronavirus.

So, what do all these polls and this online petition about Covid in Canada really tell us? 

We need to realize that, like citizens in many other countries around the world, we too are vulnerable to misinformation shared via social media, which trades on people’s fears, anxiety and imagination. 

Further, we need to consider science-based information and understand that a tested and documented vaccine, soon to be available to all Canadians, is a significant deterrent in combating the spreading pandemic’s second wave across the country. 

We are talking about a pandemic that has already taken over 10,000 Canadian lives and this number is steadily increasing. We need to recognize that people who elect not to wear masks endangers people’s lives. Period. It’s time for all of us to understand and appreciate the science-based evidence of this pandemic and trade the fear, driven by social media, for good common sense.

With a special thanks to our generous donors who make publication of the Nova Scotia Advocate possible.

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