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

(City of Vernon)
Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
No words to express collective grief: Vernon mayor on 215 buried at residential school

Vernon mayor pens letter to Okanagan Indian Band Chief and council

This goose family went for a leisurely stroll down Vernon’s Main Street Saturday, April 25. (Dave Deshane photo)
Controversial Vernon goose cull won’t fly this year

Necessary permit procedures held up at a federal level

A fire deliberately set in a washroom facility in Vernon’s transit terminal could cost the city around $25,000 to repair. (City of Vernon)
Burned-out bathroom could cost Vernon $25K

Despite changes made by city, vandalism on the rise at transit loop loos

A storm watch has been issued for the Okanagan, Kootenays and Columbia regions of B.C. (Calvin Dickson photo)
Another severe thunderstorm watch issued for the Okanagan

Conditions are favourable for thunderstorms that may produce strong wind gusts, hail and heavy rain

Singer-songwriter Jann Arden is pictured with a draft horse. (Canadian Horse Defence Coalition)
Jann Arden backs petition to stop live horse export

June 14 is the International Day to End Live Export of Animals

B.C. ambulance station in Revelstoke is expected to get a new system called the Scheduled On-Call (SOC) this fall. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
B.C. ambulance changes could put Revelstoke residents at risk, warn local paramedics

Paramedics said to expect a substantial increase in ambulance response time starting this fall

Mounties cover a burgundy truck with a tent at Buckerfields in West Kelowna on Monday, June 14. The RCMP is investigating after a woman’s body was found inside the truck. (Amandalina Letterio/Capital News)
West Kelowna RCMP investigating suspicious death after body found in truck

Police responded to a truck parked out front of a Main Street business where the body was found

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Four golfers from Fairview Mountain Golf Club in Oliver will golf from sunrise to sunset to raise funds for ALS on June 29. (Submitted)
Golfing from sunrise to sunset in Oliver for ALS

Four golfers from Fairview Mountain Golf Club have taken up the challenge June 29

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials watching U.K.’s Delta variant struggles, ‘may need to slow’ plan going forward

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Most Read