Heather Hunter February’21_2

Vaccine Hesitancy

By Heather Hunter

According to a January poll of 1500 Ontario participants, 71% will definitely get the vaccine, 14% will refuse it and 15% are undecided. Like everything else in life, benefits should outweigh risks. The reluctant do not want to be “guinea pigs” or among the first to receive the shots, so they may wait to see results. After all, if the majority of the population gets vaccinated, those who don’t will be protected by herd immunity without taking any risks.

Vaccine Hesitancy is defined as a “delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability” which, ironically, is greatest in the developed world. Western philosophy embraces individualism over the common good. People in a democratic society do not want to be told what to do. The post-modern attitude to science and health professionals is “questioning.” Many patients want to share responsibility and decision-making with their doctors. However, some doctors still feel their expertise and education should be enough for patients to trust their professional judgement unquestioningly and do not have the time or patience to discuss queries at any length.

Some people are less trusting of announcements made by public health authorities on mainstream media than opinions posted on social media or articles published on alternative websites. With more information and misinformation available, are people more informed or being led astray? Has the misbehaviour of politicians created a climate of mistrust of authority? Scientific researchers are studying the virus and still learning, so directives are apt to change which makes it appear that they are only guessing.

People who rely on social media are targets for misinformation. Fraudulent vaccine scares remain in people’s minds long after disproven. As autism increases, parents are haunted by the claim that the MMR vaccine is the cause. Sensationalist pseudo-scientific articles and anecdotes are sufficient to make people leery of vaccines. Facebook removes posts in its effort to combat false news, but people opposed to censorship argue this is an infringement of free speech.

Even if rare side effects occur, are they less dangerous than the potential damage caused by COVID-19? In certain patients, the disease goes from being just another viral infection to a wildly aggressive inflammatory monster that attacks vital organs and can lead to total systemic failure and death. Age and previous health status do not seem to matter in these unfortunate cases.

Some people who have experienced side effects from the seasonal flu shot believe that the vaccine gave them the flu. In reality, the reaction was due to the body mounting an immune response, which manifested as a fever, aches, and chills.

For parents, the decision to vaccinate is difficult and sometimes paralyzing. With their eradication, fear of many diseases has lessened. Resultant disabilities such as blindness and intellectual impairment have not been witnessed in recent times. The older generation survived measles, mumps, and chicken pox, so what’s the need for the MMR vaccine? Today, 5-10% of Canadian parents are strongly opposed to inoculation, while many are merely unconvinced and can be persuaded to seek protection for themselves and their children. Vaccines are credited with eliminating polio in America and eradicating smallpox worldwide. Vaccination is considered the greatest public health contribution to the decline of mortality and disability by infectious diseases.

Complacency is a common reason for avoidance of the vaccine. For those on the fence, doing nothing has worked so far, and so the dilemma can be put out of mind. People who rely on naturopathic remedies feel that vaccines are unnatural and possibly unsafe, that good health and hygiene keep the body’s immune system strong enough to ward off any virus. For them, a good diet, vitamin supplements, and exercise are the solution.

The main argument against a COVID-19 Vaccine is that it didn’t exist 10 months ago. How could scientists develop a new vaccine in mere months when it usually takes 10 years? Some wonder whether the process was rushed at the expense of safety. Research scientists and the medical profession assure us this is not the case, that the testing process was condensed and not reduced. Mapping of the DNA of the Coronavirus had already been done in January 2020 and work on the vaccine bench had begun. The genetic code was cracked, leading to the production of the messenger RNA vaccine which sends the message to the body cells to make a protein to develop an immune response. Much has been learned in the global collaborative process. New methods for vaccine development have been discovered that will help speed up the progress of vaccination in the future. Worldwide scientific collaboration with a singular focus has shown the world what can be done.

The first vaccine candidate to be produced in Canada in decades is in advanced testing. Medicago, a biopharmaceutical company based in Quebec City, is a pioneer in plant-based therapeutics. In Ste. Foy greenhouses, a relative of the tobacco plant widely used in experimental plant virology is being grown containing viral copies in the leaves to be put into vaccines. These disruptive virus-like particles (VLPs) mimic the virus and stimulate the body to produce the right cells to prevent the actual virus from taking hold. The real virus is not used in the production of the vaccine.

Global competition for a COVID-19 vaccine was intense and based on an unprecedented amount of data. This level of production of a vaccine has never before been seen. Public health authorities believe that vaccination is the only way to stop this pandemic.

Admittedly, the vaccines are not perfect. They have a limited shelf life, and some require extreme freezing. Two doses are optimal. They will have to be tweaked to keep up with virus variance. Questions continue to be raised: Even after vaccination, can someone infect others? Are there rare but serious side effects? How often must one be vaccinated? Time will tell.

We do not have the luxury of waiting. Rest assured, the available vaccines have been rigorously tested and shown to be highly effective. The roll-out is a mammoth task, never before equaled in Canadian history. Authorities assure us that high risk Canadians will be inoculated by the summer of 2021 and everyone (who wants it) before the year’s end. With a grateful heart, I will be in line.

Praise be to the scientists, some of the world’s greatest minds, for the miracle of vaccines.

~ Heather Hunter is a retired school teacher living in Cliffside. The opinions expressed are her own.