She was nervous to get vaccinated, but Winnipeg woman is now encouraging others to get their shot

Anxious about the possible side effects, Michelle Braithwaite didn’t want the COVID-19 vaccine, until a conversation with her daughter changed her mind. Now, she’s sharing her experience because she wants to encourage others like her to get vaccinated.

Experts say hearing from community members, role models can be effective in combatting vaccine hesitancy

Michelle Braithwaite poses for a photo after getting her first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week. (Michelle Braithwaite/Facebook)

Anxious about the possible side effects, Michelle Braithwaite didn't want the COVID-19 vaccine, until a conversation with her daughter about how important it was changed her mind. 

Now, she's sharing her experience because she wants to encourage others like her to get their vaccines as soon as they can. 

Braithwaite, who runs a gym in Winnipeg, said she's extremely health conscious and thought that as a healthy person, she didn't need to get the vaccine. 

"I always said, nope, I'm not getting it done, there's no way. I'm healthy, I work out every day, and knock on wood but, if I were to ever get COVID, I'll be OK, right?" she said. 

She also has epilepsy, so says she's always been very cautious about putting anything in her body that might impact the medication she takes to prevent seizures.

But it was her daughter who forced her to reconsider.

Braithwaite said her daughter — who was able to get vaccinated because she lives on a Manitoba First Nation — pointed out that even if Braithwaite didn't think she needed the shot, she was around people at her gym all the time and could also be a role model for others to get the vaccine. 

That convinced her to book her appointment for the AstraZeneca vaccine last week.

LISTEN | Michelle Braithwaite tells Information Radio's Marcy Markusa why she decided to get vaccinated:

When the nurse at the doctor's office told her about the potential side effects during her appointment, it made her extremely anxious, she said. 

"I felt like a little child in the doctor's office all alone," she said. 

Still, she said she got her shot, and immediately felt a sense of relief. 

"I can't even tell you tell you the weight that came off my shoulders, because I run a gym, and I always for the last year had on my back of my mind, 'What if I caught COVID? What would happen to this place?'" she said. 

"That's what matters to me the most, is my people here."

In the last week, she's posted videos describing how she's been feeling since she got her first dose of the vaccine, mostly to show people that she's doing fine, despite being very, very tired. 

"Don't get me wrong. I don't feel like I'm invincible because I have the shot ... but I do feel that I've made the right choice and I don't regret it," she said. 

Sharing stories important, experts say

Stories like Braithwaite's are incredibly important, said Heidi Tworek, a health communications researcher at the University of British Columbia.

People who are anxious about getting vaccinated might not want to listen to a distant, government authority figure, but will listen to their friends, family and community members they respect, she said.

"The more people you know who you see who have had it, the better you feel about getting it as well."

Tworek said it's important to show people that vaccination is not just about themselves, but about protecting the community as a whole. 

A recent Angus Reid poll suggested confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine jumped by about 11 per cent in just two weeks after people 40 and over became eligible in several provinces.

The online survey of 1,594 people was conducted from April 20 – 22, around the time social media was flooded with selfies of gen-Xers getting their first shot. 

Samantha Yammine, a neuroscientist and science communicator based in Toronto, said those photos put a human face to Canada's immunization efforts. 

"It's just reminding us this is a celebratory moment.… We have a solution, let's do our part," she said. 

"So I loved it. I think we all need more reasons to celebrate, and a vaccine is a fantastic reason to celebrate."

With files from Jessica Piché