By Raghvi Sharma
Vaccines are recognized as the most effective way to end COVID-19 pandemic, but vaccine hesitancy remains high in Alberta.
At present about 23.4 per cent of world’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine with 41.06 million doses being administered each day world-wide. Four types of approved vaccination are available in Canada: Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and, Janssen. In Alberta, more than 4,266,000 doses have been administered, and 72.7 per cent of Albertans above the age of 12 are now fully vaccinated while 40.7 per cent have received their first dose.
Alberta Health Services encourages full vaccination to avoid fatal and serious complications of COVID-19, as do virtually all global health organizations. AHS reports only 649 adverse post vaccination events. Despite this some Albertans continue to question vaccine safety.
Neha Kumar works in Rexall Pharmacy in the Calgary neighbourhood of Panetella. While she schedules appointments for others, she remains unvaccinated.
“I myself has not yet got any vaccination because I am pregnant and I can take risk on myself but not on the health of unborn child,” said Kumar.
Kumar, like many others, is concerned not so much about near-term side effects but about future consequences of the new vaccines. According to AHS, many people have no side effects from the vaccines. When they do occur, side-effects tend to be mild and go away in a few days. Severe effects may include persistent headache, shortness of breath and prolonged tiredness, as well as fever.
People who have taken Botox are more concerned about the side effects as there are reported instances of facial swelling within two days of the dose. According to the American Academy of Plastic Surgeons, people with dermal fillers should not be discouraged from getting the vaccine because the side effects can be resolved and do not carry long term health implications.
Anti-vaccine arguments are nothing new, and have been around for as long as vaccines themselves. But, as Health Daily News notes vaccine hesitancy has increased enormously during pandemic as “anti-vaxxers” wage campaigns against COVID-19 lockdowns and vaccine programs demanding freedom.
“I am totally against the vaccination because from my personal point of view, it is an agenda for depopulation. I think it will destroy one’s health by harming genes and capacity to bear children,” said Haram Preet Channi, a vaccine-hesitant Calgarian.
While around 32 per cent of Albertans remain unvaccinated, vaccine hesitancy is not just an Albertan phenomenon. A survey commissioned by the CCDH found that on an average one in six British people do not consent to getting vaccinated against COVID-19. A large number of global anti-vaccine movements have been organized through online media. The Centre for Countering Digital Hate has lambasted social media platforms for allowing such movements to run on their bases.
The 32 per cent of unvaccinated Albertans are known as the “vaccine hesitant” population. Hesitant populations are not necessarily “anti-vaxers.” They may be people who are less aware and are declining vaccination because they have unanswered questions.
Research by University of Calgary economist Blake Shaffer that is education, rather than income, language or cultural barriers, that is most likely to determine attitudes towards vaccination is education. Similarly, in a poll of public opinion by the CBC, people with higher level of formal education seemed to show more interest and willingness to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
AHS is aiming to be creative to boost the first dose uptake and get these population on board as the vaccine rollout continues.
“I really feel happy and safer as I’m fully vaccinated and got my both the doses of vaccination,” said Vineeta Sidhu Brar, a Calgarian who recently earned a Masters of Human Resources degree. “I encourage people around me to book their doses and also try to create awareness through social media regarding importance of vaccination.”
While it can’t increase the education levels in the province overnight, Alberta has pushed towards its re-opening threshold of 70 per cent by announcing a lottery and featuring three draws of $1 million each throughout the summer for vaccinated Albertans. Although the lottery appeared to lead to an increase, in the number of people getting vaccinated. Alberta continues to leads all other provinces in the country in terms of the number of people who continue to say “No” to vaccination.