Majority of Canadians open to getting COVID-19 vaccine, but many want to wait, poll suggests
Survey suggests two-thirds of Canadians say they will probably or certainly get vaccinated
A majority of Canadians intend to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but that many would prefer to wait at least a month or two after a vaccine is approved before doing so, a new Ipsos/Radio-Canada poll suggests.
The internet poll surveyed 3,001 people over the age of 18 across the country between Nov. 20 and Nov. 25.
Of those who responded, 64 per cent said they would probably or certainly get vaccinated, while 16 per cent said they definitely would not.
One-fifth of respondents were undecided.
"It's reassuring to me that two-thirds of Canadians are willing to accept vaccination right now, right out of the box. That's actually a very optimistic number," said Dr. Don Sheppard, director and founder of the McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity.
"Not only are the majority of people willing to undergo vaccination, but the vast majority of people feel it's really the only exit strategy that's going to work.
Happy to wait
While a majority of respondents said they'd get vaccinated, many said they didn't want to do it right away.
Only 36 per cent said they'd get vaccinated as soon as possible. Another 38 per cent said they'd wait one or two months to make sure everything's going well, and 15 per cent said they'd wait several months.
Eleven per cent were undecided.
"It's not surprising that not all of the people will want to to take it immediately," Dr. Cécile Tremblay, microbiologist and infectious diseases specialist at the CHUM, told CBC.
"That would be expected, because some people need more time to see how people react. But in the end the survey says that they would still take it," Tremblay said.
Both Sheppard and Tremblay said the poll results line up well with the likely rollout schedule of COVID-19 vaccines.
"If you think about it, in some ways, that's going to work out perfectly," Sheppard said.
"We know we're not going to get 35 million doses of the vaccine dropped off on the provinces' doorstep on January first," Sheppard said.
He said the vaccine would likely be made available over a period of months, with health-care workers and those most at risk a priority.
"Those individuals who are community-dwelling healthy individuals who want to see what happens in two months are going to get their two months, because that's how long it's going to take," Sheppard said.
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How many people is enough?
Tremblay said the survey results suggest that enough Canadians will get inoculated for the vaccine to be effective at protecting the entire population
"In order for the vaccine to have this 'herd immunity' we don't need everybody to get vaccinated," Tremblay said.
"The vaccines that we are envisioning right now are so efficacious that I think we feel that a 70-per-cent coverage would be enough," she said.
Sheppard was more cautious. He said if the goal is to eradicate COVID-19 in the same way smallpox was wiped out, well over 70 per cent of people would need to be vaccinated.
But Sheppard believes eradication shouldn't necessarily be the goal, at least in the short-term.
"What we don't want to do is tell everybody that we're going to roll this vaccine out and by September everyone will be immune and coronavirus will disappear. Because I don't believe that is actually possible," Sheppard said.
He said a more realistic goal would be to manage COVID-19 like influenza, targeting vulnerable populations with a vaccine and stamping out clusters of outbreaks.
"You go after clusters of the disease, and you do 'ring vaccinations' around those clusters, to try — and if you will —extinguish the embers of the fire," Sheppard said.
He said that would be possible to do with a 60 to 70 per cent vaccination rate.
Anxiety about risks
The survey also showed a majority of respondents are worried about possible side effects and risks associated with the vaccine.
Tremblay and Sheppard agree that experts need to listen to those concerns, and do their best to allay them.
"These vaccines — from the data that we've seen so far — these vaccines seem to be very safe. There weren't any major issues in terms of safety," Tremblay said.
"The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) forced these companies to have a followup of two months at least after the second injection to monitor adverse events, which is a good thing," she added.
"So we know that at least two months after the vaccine there hasn't been any major safety concern," Tremblay said.
She said the tests, so far, have shown people who received the vaccine experience minor side effects very similar to those experienced with the flu vaccine — sore arms, fever, fatigue.
Sheppard said a common concern he hears from people is that the vaccine has been rushed, which, he said, simply isn't true.
"Most people are flabbergasted when I explain to them that fast track doesn't mean shortcut," Sheppard said.
"The same number of people have to be vaccinated. We still have the same safety cutoffs. All the same trials have to be done," he said.
"Where we're saving time is on the logistics," he said, explaining much of the bureaucracy and funding hurdles associated with normal vaccine trials and which slow the process down have been eliminated.
One in four opposed to any kind of vaccination
The survey also showed a minority of respondents were skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine, and of vaccines in general.
Twenty-eight per cent of respondents said they believed COVID-19 could be conquered without a vaccine, and 25 per cent said they were generally opposed to any kind of vaccination.
"That is to be expected, because vaccine hesitancy is something that we've been observing in our society for several years now," Tremblay said.
Sheppard said there appears to be a small but hardcore group of people who are against vaccination.
He urged public health officials to focus more on listening to concerns and opening dialogue with people who are undecided about the vaccine, rather than scolding those who are dead set against it.
The accuracy of online surveys is measured using a credibility interval due to the non-probabilistic nature of the sample. In this case, the results are accurate to within plus or minus 2.0 percentage points (19 times out of 20) of what it would have been if all Canadians had took part in the survey.