A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. U.K. health authorities rolled out the first doses of a widely tested and independently reviewed COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, starting a global immunization program that is expected to gain momentum as more serums win approval. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. U.K. health authorities rolled out the first doses of a widely tested and independently reviewed COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, starting a global immunization program that is expected to gain momentum as more serums win approval. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

‘Respond with empathy’: B.C. expert breaks down COVID vaccine myths, reasons for hesitancy

Work needs to start now, UBC professor says

The news of Canada approving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine came with a sigh of relief for many, a glimmer of hope in a nearly year-long pandemic that has left more than 13,000 dead across the country.

People in the U.K. have already begun to get inoculated with the vaccine, which Pfizer said is 95 per cent effective after two doses, given three weeks apart.

But as Health Canada chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said, “even the best vaccine is only effective if people trust it and take it.”

Heidi Tworek, an associate professor at the University of B.C. School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, agreed, but said the work needs to start now.

“If officials are in the position of trying to combat weird information that’s floating around, you’re already in a losing position,” Tworek.

“What you really want to be doing is setting your own frame of what this vaccine is doing. It does require a substantial communication effort that goes beyond press conferences.”

READ MORE: Health Canada authorizes use of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

What’s key, Tworek said, is not to dismiss concerns outright and to try and engage people on an individual level, whether they are newly concerned or long-time skeptics. It’s also important to keep in mind, she noted, that typical anti-vaccine groups are usually filled with parents, since most vaccines are targeted at children. The COVID vaccines, however, will be targeted at adults for a long time before they may become available to kids.

“We find that people have many, many reasons [to be skeptical of vaccines]. They have half-heard something, they’re worried because of other vaccines, they themselves have had an adverse reaction to a vaccine. It can really span the whole gamut.”

READ MORE: UK probing if allergic reactions linked to Pfizer vaccine

There are also many in Canada, especially Indigenous and racialized Canadians, who are worried about how they are treated by the health care system as a whole.

“[This is] a group of people who have really legitimate concerns based on tragically recent experiences that causes them to be very skeptical,” Tworek said. She added that apologies and investigations into cases like the death of Joyce Echaquan in a Quebec hospital, and allegations of a blood alcohol guess game at a B.C. hospital, can help show that authorities are taking racism in health care seriously.

“People can feel that there are actually steps forward, you have an acknowledgement of what has been their lived experience and there is a commitment to change.”

It’s also important to learn from the introduction of masks and other COVID measures, which have faced some opposition. Tworek said there’s lesson to take away from more successful jurisdictions.

“The most effective places from the very beginning used social media… they tried to meet people where they were by being on as many channels as possible,” she said. “In New Zealand, [Prime Minister] Jacinda Ardern would do ‘Conversations through COVID’ where she would invite guests from a wide variety of professions and interests to talk to her about COVID, so it was a two-way conversation.”

Visuals or graphics, rather than science-heavy language, can make information more accessible to people who “really have never needed to know about these scientific processes but might want that kind of information in ways that might make sense to them.”

Common worries about vaccines, and how to dispel them:

1. Watching science happen in real time

One part of the conversation she feels hasn’t been handle well is explaining to the public how science works in real time. Tworek dubbed this the “science meta narrative, which is that when you tell people your advice, [you’re] also explaining to them how it was arrived at and what they might expect.”

In B.C. and Canada, shifting recommendations, sometimes delayed or without notice or explanation, led to confusion. Changing guidelines, Tworek said, should have been positioned as a sign of strength as the scientific community learned more about what was a new diseases.

2. How quickly vaccines were approved

“Help people understand why was it so quick,” Tworek said, whether it’s explaining that vaccine phases that usually run one after the other were done at the same time for COVID vaccines, or that manufacturing was done the same time as the clinical trial, instead of afterwards.

3. Adverse reactions

Explaining, rather than brushing off, adverse reactions to vaccines is more helpful. Tworek said that people can be rightfully worried about allergic reactions, especially serious ones, but it’s important to put it into context.

“When you vaccine 35 million people, what is a 0.00001 per cent? It’s people, it’s humans. So you need to figure out how to convey the risks around that,” she said. A helpful comparison can be allergies to other things, whether medicines like penicillin or foods like nuts.

4. Be kind, don’t ridicule

While it may be easy to make assumptions, Tworek said it’s important to listen and address concerns seriously.

“Try to respond to them… with empathy, so you don’t end up unintentionally hardening people’s hesitancy into an anti-vaxx stance,” she said.

5. Start before vaccines are widely available

“We should have started working some time ago, but we really need to start working to make sure that people understand if there are any risks, and we try to address vaccine hesitancy now, even though it will be months before many of those people would be eligible to get a vaccine,” Tworek said. The last thing health officials will want is vaccines sitting in storage while they try to figure out how to get people to take them.

READ MORE: ‘Route out’ of pandemic: 90-year-old woman receives UK’s 1st COVID-19 vaccine dose


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusvaccines

Just Posted

(Twitter/Ateachersaurus)
The Pachena Bay shoreline in 2013. (Twitter/Ateachersaurus)
This week in history: 9.0 magnitude quake struck under what is now called Vancouver Island

According to First Nations elders, the 9.0-magnitude quake in 1700 CE kick-started a tsunami

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
UPDATE: No sign of small plane that went down in Juan de Fuca Strait

Searchers out on both sides of border between Victoria and Port Angeles

Keygan Power, pictured at B.C. Children's Hospital,  plays chess five to seven times a day during his recovery care. Keygan suffered a life-threatening brain hemorrhage on Aug. 2.
(Photo Allison Power)
Vancouver Island teen ‘locked inside,’ battling to regain speech after severe brain bleed

16-year-old suffers traumatic loss of function, still plays a mean game of chess

Snow is sticking to the ground on Malahat Drive at Shawnigan Lake Road. (Drive BC)
Snowfall warning issued for Malahat

10 centimetres of snow expected between Goldstream and Mill Bay

Swanwick Ranch, a 67-acre property on Swanwick Road in Metchosin, features a luxurious 10,700 square-foot home overlooking the ocean. It is currently on the market for $14.1 million. (Sotheby’s International Realty)
The five most expensive homes for sale in Greater Victoria

A roundup of luxury estates currently on the market

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

(Kraft Dinner/Twitter)
Kraft Dinner launches candy-flavoured mac and cheese just in time for Valentine’s Day

Sweet and cheesy treat will be here just in time for the cheesiest holiday of the year

Cash and drugs allegedly found in a suspect’s possession following an arrest earlier this month in downtown Nanaimo. (Photo submitted)
Accused drug dealer arrested in Nanaimo carrying $20K, fentanyl, crack and meth

Terrance Virus, 39, being held in custody, scheduled to appear in court Feb. 1

A tip from the public helped Victoria police located and arrest wanted men Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Tips lead police to arrest convicted killer, robber near downtown Victoria

Two men were at large after failing to return to community facility

Police are warning people of flu shot and vaccination frauds. (Black Press Media file photo)
Flu shot fraud charges West Shore resident for non-existent appointments

Fraudulent email claimed to be from London Drugs

Leila Bui with her parents Tuan (left) and Kairry Nguyen on Jan. 27, 2020 after Tenessa Nikirk was found guilty for striking Bui in a Saanich crosswalk. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Driver convicted of dangerous driving after hitting Leila Bui out on bail

Tennesa Nikirk was convicted for striking then 11-year-old Leila Bui with her car

The Pacific Rim Whale Festival is breaching for a COVID-safe return in March. (Poster photo by Owen Crosby)
Pacific Rim Whale Festival aims for virtual return in March

Educational celebration scheduled to arrive in Tofino-Ucluelet on March 15.

Extensive water on No. 4 and 5 at the Mount Brenton Golf Course following heavy rains earlier this month. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Island golf course does a booming business in 2020

A total of 15,000 more rounds played than the previous year at Mount Brenton

Most Read