Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Tuesday August 25, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Tuesday August 25, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Misinformation online plays role in COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy: Tam

Dr. Tam says she is concerned about misinformation spread online about vaccines

Canada’s chief public health officer is warning against the spread of online untruths about vaccines, as a new survey suggests some Canadians are worried about getting inoculated against COVID-19.

Dr. Theresa Tam made the comments during a news conference Tuesday while responding to the Statistics Canada survey, which found nearly one-quarter of respondents unlikely or unsure whether they would get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Many experts and political leaders have touted the successful development and widespread rollout of a vaccine as essential for an eventual return to normalcy, including the full reopening of economies and ending physical distancing.

More than 76 per cent of respondents in the Statistics Canada survey indicated they would likely get inoculated if and when a vaccine is ready. Yet 14 per cent said they were somewhat or very unlikely to do so. Nine per cent remained unsure.

Those who indicated they were unlikely to get a vaccine were asked to identify the reasons for their reluctance. More than half cited a lack of confidence in its safety while a similar number said they were worried about potential risks and side effects.

About one-quarter of respondents, who were allowed to give more than one answer, said they did not consider it necessary to get the vaccine while about 10 per cent indicated they did not believe in vaccines at all.

More than one-third said they would likely just wait until the vaccine seemed safe.

The survey also indicated younger Canadians and those who don’t have a university degree are more likely to be hesitant or nervous about a vaccine than those who are older and more educated.

The crowd-sourced survey of around 4,000 Canadians was conducted between June 15-21. It cannot be given a margin of error because the participants do not represent a random sample.

Asked about the survey, Tam underscored the importance of “vaccine confidence,” describing it as integral to the successful rollout of vaccine.

She went on to promise that regulators won’t take any shortcuts with safety despite the government agreeing to several changes to the clinical-trial process to get a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed faster.

“Just because it’s an accelerated process to get vaccines for Canadians does not mean we’re going to shortchange anything on safety and effectiveness,” Tam said. “I do have confidence in our regulatory system.”

Tam also took aim at the spread of falsehoods about vaccines online.

“I do think social media and internet companies do have responsibilities in terms of their role in the space,” she said.

“So I would look towards different partners, different government departments also coming together to look at how we better address some of the misinformation that’s in that space.”

READ MORE: 30% of British Columbians would ‘wait and see’ before taking COVID vaccine: poll

She is not the first to speak out on this issue, as some have blamed the growing number and influence of anti-vaccination groups online for a resurgence in childhood diseases such as measles.

Facebook announced last year that it would be cracking down on so-called “anti-vaxxer” groups, which included labelling posts deemed as containing false information about vaccines. The social media giant now being sued by one such group in California.

Josh Greenberg, a communications professor at Carleton University who has been studying Canadians’ attitudes towards a COVID-19 vaccine, said safety concerns aren’t unexpected, given the pressure governments and industry are facing to get something working fast.

Yet he said it is essential that Ottawa push back against misinformation campaigns, which have been growing in numbers and influence even as governments around the world have been slow to react.

“When you look at issues like COVID-19 and the campaign to ready or prepare the public for the eventual release of a vaccine, you’re talking about a battle for both hearts and minds,” Greenberg said.

“It’s not just an information battle of trying to make sure that people have accurate information, but that you are persuading them in such a way that they trust the veracity of the information you’re providing and they also trust the source of that information.”

While the world is rushing to find a vaccine for COVID-19, new reports of several people having been reinfected with the novel coronavirus after testing positive once before raise concerns that it might be a moving target.

Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said the cases in Hong Kong, Belgium and the Netherlands highlight ongoing questions about immunity to COVID-19 and the need for an effective vaccine.

READ MORE: Canada signs deals with Pfizer, Moderna to get doses of COVID-19 vaccines

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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

Coronavirusvaccines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Black Crow Cannabis is just one of Vernon's many pot shops now open in town. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Kelowna has highest cannabis fees in Okanagan

Vernon’s 14 stores pay second highest business licence fees

(Photo: pixabay.com)
Morning Start: More human twins are being born now than ever before

Your morning start for Friday, April 16, 2021

Twin sisters Kyla, left, and Jordyn Bear have accepted scholarships to play at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York for this upcoming fall. The 17-year-olds dream of playing together for Canada in the Olympics one day. (Jesse Johnston/CP photo)
Lake Country twins inspire Indigenous hockey players

Grade 12 George Elliot Secondary students Kyla and Jordyn Bear earn hockey scholarships at NCAA Division 1 school

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
69 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 9,840 since the pandemic began

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Black Press Media Weekly Roundup: Top headlines this week

Here’s a quick roundup of the stories that made headlines across the Okanagan, from April 11 to 16

Penticton bylaw officers tore down a “pretty significantly sized” homeless camp underneath the bridge near Riverside Drive Friday, April 16 morning. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton bylaw tears down ‘significantly sized’ homeless camp under bridge

Many residents had made complaints about the camp before it was torn down

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

Ford F-350s have been targeted in the North Okanagan by auto thieves since February 2021, Vernon North Okanagan RCMP data shows. (Gene J. Puskar - The Canadian Press/AP file)
Auto thieves target older Ford F-350s in Vernon: RCMP

Vernon Mounties remind all motorists no vehicle is immune to auto crime

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Most Read