Opinion: COVID-19 vaccine won’t help if people are afraid to get it

In the movies, it happens overnight. An American doctor hunkers down in a lab with a crate full of monkeys, and by morning, it’s ready: the vaccine that will save the world.

Unfortunately, in a real life pandemic, science moves a little slower. Scratch that – a lot slower.

Vaccines, it turns out, are the product of years of labour, not hours. And, as opposed to a single miracle serum depicted in movies, in the real world of COVID-19, it feels like there are too many vaccines in development to keep track of.

Also in reality: Countries such as Canada (that don’t seem to exist in Hollywood catastrophe movies) can’t rely on the generosity of the United States to develop and administer a life-saving injection to the world in the course of a single day. In real life, good news comes in small doses.

This week, we got some. News emerged Wednesday the Canadian government is negotiating deals with pharmaceutical and biotech companies Pfizer and Moderna to secure millions of doses of their COVID-19 vaccines in the event they are approved for mass use, hopefully in 2021.

In other words, while we are still a long way off from the end of our own COVID-19 movie, we know the federal government is at the very least trying to get us there.

Though she wouldn’t specify how many doses the government will obtain, nor how much money it’s spending to obtain them, Anita Anand, the minister of public services and procurement, stressed at a news conference “these agreements with Moderna and Pfizer are indicative of our aggressive approach to secure access to vaccine candidates now, so that Canadians are at the front of a line when a vaccine becomes available.”

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains appeared equally optimistic. “Our government firmly believes in the role of science in good decision-making,” he said at the same news conference.

But the question remains: Does the Canadian public believe the same thing? That is, are we firm believers in the role of science in good decision-making, or are we, rather, believers in conspiracy theories we read on Facebook?

There’s another major difference between how pandemics play out in the movies and how they play out in real life. In the movies, people generally can’t wait to get their hands on a vaccine when it arrives.

In a real world pandemic, they’re not quite as eager.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, 46 per cent of Canadians say they would get a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as one becomes available.

However, 32 per cent say that, while they would get one, they would “wait a while first.”

Conversely, 14 per cent are opposed to being vaccinated altogether, and eight per cent aren’t sure where they stand.

According to Angus Reid, “the majority of those who say they will wait to get the vaccine also say they are worried about side effects (76 per cent).”

Some of these concerns are understandable, especially in light of the unprecedented speed with which these vaccines are being developed and tested.

But it’s also likely that a large chunk of this fear is the result of misinformation, namely COVID-19 conspiracy theories that are proving to be very popular online: theories about the dangers of potential vaccines, to the dangers of mask wearing and 5G cellular networks.

Canadians like to mock Americans who believe their president when he straight up lies to them, but we believe a lot of similar bunk in our own right.

A May study from the school of journalism and communication at Carleton University indicated “nearly half of Canadians (46 per cent) believed at least one of four COVID-19 conspiracy theories and myths,” including the discredited theory that the virus was engineered in a Chinese lab, and “regularly rinsing your nose with a saline solution can help protect individuals from infection.”

Another recent study by researchers at McGill University concluded exposure to social media networks is “associated with misperceptions regarding basic facts about COVID-19, while the inverse is true for news media. These misconceptions are in turn associated with lower compliance with social distancing measures.”

What remains to be seen is whether such misconceptions will result in a lower-than-desired COVID-19 vaccination rate when a safe vaccine is widely available.

Government and health officials are fond of saying a vaccine is not a “silver bullet.” If we want to beat this thing, they argue, we must continue to be vigilant by way of physically distancing and wearing masks.

What they often fail to mention, though, is that we also must be vigilant about the kinds of health information we consume and share online.

It’s wonderful that the federal government is a “firm believer in the role of science in good decision-making.” But, if the general public doesn’t share that belief, the outcome of its decisions might not be very good at all.

Emma Teitel is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Anti-racism demonstration was not a ‘peaceful protest,’ as sides spar in Red Deer

Two groups that rallied in Red Deer on Sunday afternoon could only… Continue reading

Addressing anti-mask protests poses a challenge for leaders, experts say

Quebec’s COVID-19 case numbers hit their highest numbers since the end of May

Canada’s Kennedy to yesterday’s man: former PM John Turner dead at 91

Politicians and other public figures immediately began sharing memories

QUIZ: A celebration of apples

September is the start of the apple harvest

Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world in the coming week

The 2020 Global Business Forum in Banff, Alta., will be held as a special hybrid event

New tools, ideas needed to speed up housing strategy funding, CMHC president says

Slow turnaround time on some of its national housing strategy programs

Letter containing ricin sent to White House may have come from Canada: RCMP

The letter contained ricin, a toxic substance found naturally in castor beans

Nunavut reports first confirmed COVID-19 cases, saying both are mine workers

The territory says at this time, there is no evidence of transmission within site

B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

The pandemic has shown how heavily Canada relies on migrant and undocumented workers

Wetaskiwin RCMP make arrests for Hit and Run to residence

Damage estimates are expected to be in excess of $20,000.

Former prime minister John Turner dead at 91

TORONTO — Former prime minister John Turner, whose odyssey from a “Liberal… Continue reading

Hay’s Daze: Happy to be left out of the picture

Talk about being out of the loop. Head in the sand. Uninformed,… Continue reading

Most Read