Patience and compassion are the tools to defeat COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy: doctor

Saskatchewan Roughriders wide receiver Shaq Evans says talking to a doctor helped him feel more comfortable with receiving the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Roughriders wide receiver Shaq Evans says talking to a doctor made him comfortable with vaccine

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use on adolescents age 12 to 15, Health Canada said Wednesday. (Getty Images)

A Saskatchewan doctor is urging Canadians and health-care workers to be patient and compassionate toward those who are hesitant about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. 

"There are a lot of people who are not actually inherently against vaccine in any way," said Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious disease specialist in Saskatoon. 

"They're not anti-science, they're not anti-establishment, they're not anti-medicine or anything like that ... they just genuinely have questions because they just don't know who to trust."

Children 12 and up can receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but will they?

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Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Alex Wong on how to talk to their kids about vaccination 1:04

As Saskatchewan continues its campaign to vaccinate its residents, Wong said the province needs to do a better job at reaching out and educating the vaccine hesitant. 

A survey by Statistics Canada in 2020, found that the majority of Canadians (76.9 per cent) aged 12 and older were somewhat or very willing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. That means a chunk of the population (23 per cent) were resistant to receiving a vaccine, something that could have significant negative effects on the ongoing vaccination campaign.

In an interview with CBC Saskatchewan on Monday, Wong drew a distinction between two different camps: anti-vaxxers — a small subset of the 23 per cent who are opposed to vaccines and are unlikely to be persuaded from their firmly-held belief — and vaccine hesitant individuals, who don't know what to do or where to get answers. 

It's the latter group that Saskatchewan should look to to educate and convice to receive a jab, he said.  

"They're just wanting to know, 'is this the right decision for me?' and for all those types of individuals that's the sort of thing where people need to take the time and you need to have the requisite knowledge, I think, to be able to counsel those people." 

Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker Nick Taylor, left, tackles Saskatchewan Roughriders wide receiver Shaq Evans. (Mark Taylor/Canadian Press )

Clarity and expertise a relief to Roughrider

Shaq Evans can attest to the power of being reassured by an expert. 

The Saskatchewan Roughriders wide receiver was one of many CFL players who have taken part in calls with Dr. Dhiren Naidu, who is heading up the league's return-to-play plan.

"He gave us a lot of insight and a lot of clarity in that aspect," Evans said in a video interview from California, where he waits to hear about the status of the 2021 CFL season. 

Evans said he had been feeling anxious around receiving his second COVID-19 dose, but that having the chance for an expert to explain why vaccination is important and how rare any negative side-effects are made him feel much more confident.

Part of that came from Naidu's role as the team doctor for the the Edmonton Oilers and Edmonton Football Team. Naidu also played an important role in the NHL and World Junior hockey bubbles in Edmondton. 

Evan said he had suffered through a COVID-19 diagnoses and that the side effects of the vaccine were minor in comparison. 

The 2019 CFL All-Star took to Twitter to encourage others to get a vaccine as soon as they can. He said as a public figure he felt an obligation to speak out. 

"I guess that's really my my goal is just to... put my face out there and just let people know, 'look, I got it and I'm fine,'" he said. 

Hitting the wall 

Last week, Saskatchewan Minister of Health Scott Merriman said he doesn't believe vaccine hesitancy will be an issue in the province.

Wong disagrees. 

Although vaccine adoption has been pretty good in the province, Wong said it's likely Saskatchewan will hit a wall in vaccination rates as it encounters vaccine hesitant groups. 

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Alexander Wong joined Jennifer Quesnel to talk about vaccine hesitancy in Saskatchewan, and how far we have to come to achieve herd immunity. 8:39

Some of his colleagues in the health authority have already been discussing how to improve vaccination rates and help provide information to those who need it. 

Wong said he wants to crystal-clear messaging from the government.

"I think a huge part of it is creating easy-to-access, simple resources that people can turn to and rely on with regards to up-to-date information and practical, simple to understand answers to the most common questions." 

Wong said he knows that some colleagues have become frustrated about still having to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine more than a year into the pandemic, but that we all need to be compassionate.

"Usually all it takes is just that kindness and patience so that that person knows that you care, knows that you want to help them make a good decision and that you're going to take the time necessary in order to help them get there," he said. 


  • A previous version of this story stated that the Statistics Canada survey found that 33 per cent of people were vaccine hesitant. In fact, it was 23 per cent.
    May 11, 2021 1:47 PM CT


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