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An older man is receiving a vaccination from a health care worker

Vaccine hesitancy

The longer you wait the longer you’re unprotected
By Dr. Rhonda Collins

Like many doctors and health care workers on the frontline of this pandemic, I’m tired. I’m tired of being upset. I’m tired of being sad. I’m tired of being tired. And, I’m tired of people refusing to listen to facts and science.

Canada recently passed yet another grim milestone in this pandemic: 1 million cases of COVID-19. It’s hard to fathom what a million of something looks like. I find that, in this case, it helps to simply remember that 1 million cases of COVID-19 in Canada looks like a collection of mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers, sisters. They’re people just like you and me. Most have survived, but sadly too many have not. Many more are living with what’s being called “long COVID,” which are serious symptoms that are persisting long beyond the normal timeframe of what a typical recovery looks like.

“Stop believing the myths and conspiracies. Start believing the science.”

More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, people are still getting sick and people are dying. We are now in the third wave of this pandemic and the variants of concern have the upper hand. If you are hesitating to get a COVID-19 vaccine, please read this blog. And if you know anyone who is hesitating, please share this with them. Vaccines save lives.

Like many others, I’m disappointed when I see images of people congregating unnecessarily. For more than a year, doctors and scientists have been trying to explain the dangers of this virus and once again we find ourselves staring off the edge of a cliff. We need to take strong action and this time we have more tools in our arsenal.

Vaccines have arrived and are our best chance to beat COVID-19. Despite the arrival of the solution to many of the things people are frustrated with, such as lockdowns and social restrictions, people are still hesitating to get the vaccine. There are a number of reasons someone may be hesitant, but frankly, being hesitant because of something you read on social media, or because you heard something from someone who heard it from someone else is illogical. I wrote another blog about the safety of vaccines, and I am happy to say that we now have even more evidence to verify these results. Pretty soon, more than a billion doses of the various COVID-19 vaccines available will have been administered around the world. That means we have hundreds of millions of people who have been vaccinated and the associated data. This fact alone overwhelmingly demonstrates that vaccines are safe. Deciding to ‘wait and see’ how the vaccines will perform is no longer a valid approach.

Let me give you another strong example. You are likely hearing about the third wave of COVID-19 in Canada and how it is worse than the first two waves. You may also have heard that the virus is affecting younger, healthier people unlike the first two waves. There is a reason for this. Almost all residents in retirement residences and long term care homes have been vaccinated. Vaccines are working. They are saving lives in our long term care homes and retirement residences, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am, as we face this third wave, that governments across the country prioritized seniors with the limited supply of vaccines our country managed to secure earlier this year.

The data is indisputable and anyone who tries to say otherwise is wrong. In Canada, of all those who have received a vaccine, 0.06 per cent declared they had an adverse reaction, which includes minor effects like soreness around the injection site. Of Canada’s vaccinated individuals, 384 of 4.8 million people, or roughly 1 in 14,000, had more serious reactions. Compare this to your chances of being killed in a car accident, which is 1 in 107, and you see that the risks from a COVID-19 vaccine are extremely small. Education is key to encouraging people to get vaccinated and I encourage everyone to read the evidence. However, be very careful about where your information is coming from. Follow the advice of medical experts.

Much has also been made about supposed links between the vaccine and blood clots, particularly the AstraZeneca vaccine. What the data is showing is that blood clots are happening at the same rate for those who have received the vaccine and those who haven’t. There is a potential link being investigated for an extremely rare type of blood clot – 44 in 92 million people – however in my medical opinion the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the potential risks.

Another cause for hesitancy is a concern for people planning to become pregnant. I certainly appreciate that future parents want to do everything possible to bring a healthy child into the world. It will be reassuring to know, therefore, that during the clinical trials, some of the subjects became pregnant. Importantly, these women had good outcomes with healthy babies being born. Leaders of the OBGYN community around the world are encouraging women who are pregnant, planning pregnancy or who could become pregnant to get the vaccine because, once again, the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risk of contracting COVID.

Finally, there are those with the mistaken belief that society can achieve natural immunity without all of us getting vaccinated. For that to work, everyone would have to catch COVID, which means more hospitalizations and more deaths. This is a dangerous proposition people are pushing, and the more people hold this belief the longer we will have to live under lockdowns and be isolated from our friends and families.

The best vaccine you can get is the first vaccine you’re offered. Don’t shop around or wait for one vaccine over another because you heard it’s better or only requires one dose. Don’t be confused by the efficacy rates that have been so heavily pushed in the media. These are not true comparative measures to examine the vaccines against each other because the data only relates to their respective clinical trial. Each vaccine was tested individually in different groups, in different countries, and at different times, therefore it’s impossible to accurately compare their efficacy to one another without a proper head-to-head study. The relevant data to pay attention to is that all vaccines are 100 per cent effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

We’ve all given up something or someone because of this pandemic. We’ve missed birthdays, holidays, weddings, funerals and more. Let’s be clear, getting vaccinated is the right thing to do. Stop believing the myths and conspiracies. Start believing the science. Roll up your sleeve, get your shot, and let’s all get on with our lives.

Wash your hands, wear your mask, watch your distance and, when your turn comes, don’t hesitate to get your vaccine.

Dr. Rhonda Collins, Chief Medical Officer of Revera
By Dr. Rhonda Collins
Dr. Rhonda Collins brings passion and expertise in memory care, dementia, falls prevention and clinical quality improvement to the role of Revera’s Chief Medical Officer. Dr. Collins is a family physician with a certificate of added competence in Care of the Elderly from the College of Family Physicians of Canada.