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

Grads at Riverside Park in Vanderhoof, B.C. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
Vanderhoof celebrates 2021 graduates

NVSS grads got together at Riverside Park on Friday, June 11 in… Continue reading

People had a chance to interact with different animals at the petting zoo, participate in mutton busting, and buy everything local during the Fall Fair held in 2019. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
55th Fall Fair in Vanderhoof cancelled

Alternative events eyed once again

Singing and drumming was heard in downtown Vanderhoof on Monday, June 14. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
Photos: Honour Walk held in Vanderhoof

An honour walk was held Monday June 14 in Vanderhoof, remembering the… Continue reading

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

For more than a year, Rene Doyharcabal and a small group of neighbours in Langley’s Brookswood neighbourhood have been going out every evening to show support for first responders by honking horns and banging pots and drums. Now, a neighbour has filed a noise complaint. (Langley Advance Times file)
Noise complaint filed against nightly show of support for health care workers in B.C. city

Langley Township contacted group to advise of complaint, but no immediate action is expected

A nurse prepares a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Yukon Convention Centre in Whitehorse on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike Thomas
Vancouver couple pleads guilty to breaking Yukon COVID rules, travelling for vaccine

Chief Judge Michael Cozens agreed with a joint sentencing submission,

An inmate in solitary confinement given lunch on Tuesday, May 10, 2016. THE CANADIAN/Lars Hagberg
22-hour cap on solitary confinement for youth in custody still too long: B.C. lawyer

Jennifer Metcalfe was horrified to hear a youth had spent a total of 78 straight days in isolation

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens as Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents the province’s latest budget, April 20, 2021. The budget projects $19 billion in deficits over three years. (Hansard TV)
B.C. government budget balloons, beyond COVID-19 response

Provincial payroll up 104,000 positions, $10 billion since 2017

COVID-related trash is washing up on shorelines across the world, including Coldstream’s Kal Beach, as pictured in this May 2021 photograph. (Jennifer Smith - Black Press)
Shoreline cleanup finds COVID-related trash increased during height of the pandemic

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup reports litter from single-use food packaging nearly doubled

Doctor David Vallejo and his fiancee Doctor Mavelin Bonilla hold photos of themselves working, as they kiss at their home in Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Doctor Vallejo and Doctor Bonilla suspended their wedding in order to tend to COVID-19 patients and in the process Vallejo got sick himself with the disease, ending up in an ICU for several days. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Love, sacrifice and surviving COVID-19: one couple’s story

COVID hits Ecuadorian doctors who delayed wedding to treat sick

St. Joseph's Mission site is located about six kilometres from Williams Lake First Nation. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake First Nation to search residential school site for unmarked graves

St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School operated from 1886 to 1981

Most Read