Nova Scotia

Among Nova Scotia's unvaccinated, it's not just anti-vaxxers who remain

Around seven per cent of Nova Scotia's population eligible for COVID-19 vaccination have not yet received a first dose, but experts say it's not just anti-vaxxers who are left.

Experts say there's a variety of ways to help the unvaccinated get vaccinated against COVID-19

Nancy, the mother of a teenager student, joins anti-vaccine protesters outside the Los Angeles Unified School District administrative offices on Sept. 9, 2021. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Around seven per cent of Nova Scotia's population eligible for COVID-19 vaccination have not yet received a first dose, but experts say it's not just anti-vaxxers who remain.

"We know that some of the reasons people can't get vaccinated is not because they're hesitant about it, it's not because they want to reject it, but there is so much going on in their life that they're not able to get out to the places where they can get immunized," said Dr. Noni MacDonald, a pediatric infectious diseases expert at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

She used the example of a senior in their 70s who ended up in a Nova Scotia emergency room because they contracted COVID-19. They had been putting off their booster dose because of a grandchild they care for and couldn't find the time to get vaccinated.

MacDonald said it's important for people to help others make it easier to get vaccinated, which could mean driving someone to a vaccine clinic or babysitting for them.

She said another reason some people remain unvaccinated is because of a fear of needles.

Dr. Noni MacDonald, a pediatric infectious diseases expert at Dalhousie University in Halifax, says all citizens play an important role in encouraging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

"Who wants to stand up as an adult to say they're terrified of getting a needle?" said MacDonald. "Nobody's going to say that. But what we need to do is provide them a place where they can go and get the help they need to be able to deal with it."

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said there are processes in place to help people with a fear of needles get vaccinated. He recommends they contact a pharmacy before their appointment or call Nova Scotia Health to come up with an appropriate treatment plan.

Strang said a sedative can be provided in the hospital to help people get vaccinated.

"We've gone many steps beyond where we typically have in place to support people who have these types of fears and anxieties to allow them to get vaccinated," he said.

To encourage people to get vaccinated, Nova Scotia has instituted a proof-of-vaccination policy for non-essential activities, as well as a requirement that provincial civil servants be vaccinated.

Timothy Caulfield, the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, said policies like this are effective at encouraging vaccinations, even among people opposed to getting vaccinated.

Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, says unvaccinated people 'are carrying a disproportionate burden of severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths.' (CBC)

"It sort of gives deniers an opportunity to maintain their public face ... what they can say is, 'Look, I still think this is all a conspiracy. I still think the vaccines don't work, but I guess I need to get it to have my job or to travel or etc.,'" he said.

But Caulfield said that once being an anti-vaxxer "becomes embedded in your ideology," getting people to change their minds is a big challenge, but it's not impossible.

Encouraging anti-vaxxers to get vaxxed

He said research has shown people trust information from health-care providers and scientists, but they also trust their peers.

This is why family members and friends of anti-vaxxers play a critical role in encouraging them to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

"When you're a family member, when you're a close friend to someone you know and you've shared life experiences with them, I think you can have a greater impact on how they view vaccines," said Caulfield.

He cautions they may not change their minds overnight.

Timothy Caulfield, the Canada Research Chair in Health Policy and Law, says good science communication has helped get people vaccinated, but public health agencies are grappling with the damage done by misinformation that exists online. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Throughout the pandemic, Strang has encouraged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but he hasn't taken cheap shots at people who remain unvaccinated, amid growing ire toward them.

"It doesn't help anybody by being angry at them to change the choice, to change the behaviour they're making," he said. "Anger doesn't work."

Strang said "you still have to show somebody that you care for them, that you respect them," even in the case of disagreements.

Last week, Nova Scotia Health reported that some hospitals have been exceeding their patient capacity due to pressures from COVID-19.

This photo was taken at a Sept. 13, 2021, at a Calgary protest against COVID-19 vaccinations and vaccines passports. 'COVID vaccines are safe, they're effective and they have played a critically important role in getting us through this Omicron wave,' says Strang. (Nancy Walters/CBC)

Strang said the hospital system is "at a crisis point right now," but said the situation would be worse if not for the province's high vaccination rates.

He said among patients hospitalized in the COVID-19 designated units, 22 per cent are unvaccinated. The unvaccinated account for around 30 per cent of deaths because of COVID-19, said Strang.

"COVID is not going away and one of the things that is going to allow us to move to living with COVID is maintaining high levels of population immunity, which will rely on a high percentage of the population being vaccinated," he said.

"It's not too late to start."