British Columbia

COVID-19 vaccinations in Richmond lagged due to disinformation, doctors say

Richmond has seen some of the lowest vaccine uptake in Metro Vancouver, in part due to misinformation and concerns over vaccine efficacy, local health experts say. 

Earlier in June, Richmond had the lowest vaccination rate in the province at 69 per cent

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health in Richmond, B.C. on April 2021. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Richmond has seen some of the lowest vaccine uptake in Metro Vancouver, in part due to misinformation and concerns about vaccine efficacy, local health experts say. 

Dr. Henry Ngai, a family physician, believes the initial lag in vaccine uptake can be attributed to vaccine hesitancy and unrealistic expectations he's heard from his patients.

"They're concerned about the side effects and also the efficacy. A lot of people are concerned [that they] get a vaccine and it's not 100 per cent protective," he said. "They think, 'Why would I do something that's uncertain and doesn't give me [full] protection?'"

Richmond had the lowest vaccination rates in Metro Vancouver at one point.

BCCDC data suggests that as of June 7, only 69 per cent of people aged 12 and up had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That rate has since increased to a level on par with the province.

Early in the pandemic, Richmond had some of the lowest rates of infection due to the early adoption of wearing masks and physical distancing. The city has the highest concentration of Chinese residents in the province.

Dr. Ngai said he's also seen misinformation — much of it from Hong Kong — influence his patients, recalling one who brought him what appeared to be a newspaper article.

"It said if you have high blood pressure, have been treated for thyroid disease, have diabetes and heart problems, then you should not get the vaccine," Dr. Ngai said. "These are people who are at risk of serious complications from COVID-19, and the people who need the vaccine badly."

Travel concerns

For other members of the community, they seem influenced by factors outside the country. A Richmond family support worker — whose name CBC has agreed not to use due to concerns for her and her family's safety — says some Chinese families she works with are worried about the ability to travel.

"A while ago, I heard a family telling me if they got Moderna or Pfizer, not Chinese vaccines, then — as Chinese nationals — they would not be allowed to go back to China," she says. 

There is a likely source for this concern. In mid-March, CNBC reported that Chinese embassies around the world issued instructions on how foreign travellers can apply for visas, but they only applied to people who received Chinese vaccines. People who didn't get Chinese vaccines could still apply, but would have been required to provide stronger reasons for travel and additional documents.

In mid-April, the measures were rolled back following backlash from countries where Chinese vaccines aren't available. The Chinese embassy in Washington also issued a notice saying China will accept Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine records for applications. The Chinese embassy in Canada provided similar guidelines for people inoculated with Chinese vaccines, but gave no further guidance for people who received Pfizer or AstraZeneca shots.

Dr. Meena Dawar, medical health officer for Richmond with Coastal Health, says there were also issues with vaccinating seniors. In certain areas of Richmond, she says there are a lot of seniors who are homebound for various reasons, but didn't know they could be vaccinated at home. She says the next step is to learn from the concerns.

"We do have to pause and reflect on who's not coming forward, and why aren't they coming forward," she says. "We need to respond, so those concerns can be answered in a timely fashion and people can be protected."

For the support worker, she believes more engagement needs to happen on different platforms, especially since a large part of the community in Richmond relies on Chinese social media and messaging app WeChat for information.

"WeChat groups are very, very powerful for anything," she says. "If you want to spread news quickly, then a WeChat group is the channel you want to target certain populations."