Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Tuesday August 25, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Misinformation online plays role in COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy: Tam

Dr. Tam says she is concerned about misinformation spread online about vaccines

Canada’s chief public health officer is warning against the spread of online untruths about vaccines, as a new survey suggests some Canadians are worried about getting inoculated against COVID-19.

Dr. Theresa Tam made the comments during a news conference Tuesday while responding to the Statistics Canada survey, which found nearly one-quarter of respondents unlikely or unsure whether they would get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Many experts and political leaders have touted the successful development and widespread rollout of a vaccine as essential for an eventual return to normalcy, including the full reopening of economies and ending physical distancing.

More than 76 per cent of respondents in the Statistics Canada survey indicated they would likely get inoculated if and when a vaccine is ready. Yet 14 per cent said they were somewhat or very unlikely to do so. Nine per cent remained unsure.

Those who indicated they were unlikely to get a vaccine were asked to identify the reasons for their reluctance. More than half cited a lack of confidence in its safety while a similar number said they were worried about potential risks and side effects.

About one-quarter of respondents, who were allowed to give more than one answer, said they did not consider it necessary to get the vaccine while about 10 per cent indicated they did not believe in vaccines at all.

More than one-third said they would likely just wait until the vaccine seemed safe.

The survey also indicated younger Canadians and those who don’t have a university degree are more likely to be hesitant or nervous about a vaccine than those who are older and more educated.

The crowd-sourced survey of around 4,000 Canadians was conducted between June 15-21. It cannot be given a margin of error because the participants do not represent a random sample.

Asked about the survey, Tam underscored the importance of “vaccine confidence,” describing it as integral to the successful rollout of vaccine.

She went on to promise that regulators won’t take any shortcuts with safety despite the government agreeing to several changes to the clinical-trial process to get a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed faster.

“Just because it’s an accelerated process to get vaccines for Canadians does not mean we’re going to shortchange anything on safety and effectiveness,” Tam said. “I do have confidence in our regulatory system.”

Tam also took aim at the spread of falsehoods about vaccines online.

“I do think social media and internet companies do have responsibilities in terms of their role in the space,” she said.

“So I would look towards different partners, different government departments also coming together to look at how we better address some of the misinformation that’s in that space.”

READ MORE: 30% of British Columbians would ‘wait and see’ before taking COVID vaccine: poll

She is not the first to speak out on this issue, as some have blamed the growing number and influence of anti-vaccination groups online for a resurgence in childhood diseases such as measles.

Facebook announced last year that it would be cracking down on so-called “anti-vaxxer” groups, which included labelling posts deemed as containing false information about vaccines. The social media giant now being sued by one such group in California.

Josh Greenberg, a communications professor at Carleton University who has been studying Canadians’ attitudes towards a COVID-19 vaccine, said safety concerns aren’t unexpected, given the pressure governments and industry are facing to get something working fast.

Yet he said it is essential that Ottawa push back against misinformation campaigns, which have been growing in numbers and influence even as governments around the world have been slow to react.

“When you look at issues like COVID-19 and the campaign to ready or prepare the public for the eventual release of a vaccine, you’re talking about a battle for both hearts and minds,” Greenberg said.

“It’s not just an information battle of trying to make sure that people have accurate information, but that you are persuading them in such a way that they trust the veracity of the information you’re providing and they also trust the source of that information.”

While the world is rushing to find a vaccine for COVID-19, new reports of several people having been reinfected with the novel coronavirus after testing positive once before raise concerns that it might be a moving target.

Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said the cases in Hong Kong, Belgium and the Netherlands highlight ongoing questions about immunity to COVID-19 and the need for an effective vaccine.

READ MORE: Canada signs deals with Pfizer, Moderna to get doses of COVID-19 vaccines

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusvaccines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich residents warned to watch livestock after bear kills llama

Officers with Conservation, Saanich police could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Local New Democrat Zeb King welcomed Premier John Horgan during a brief photo opportunity in Sidney Monday afternoon (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
NDP leader John Horgan predicts party will ‘flip’ Saanich North and the Islands

Incumbent MLA Adam Olsen calls Horgan’s claim ‘bold’

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

London Drugs at Colwood Corners is temporarily closed after a water main burst on Sunday afternoon. (Google Maps)
Water main burst temporarily closes London Drugs in Colwood

Staff say re-opening date yet to be determined after Sunday incident

West Shore RCMP say a single car crash into a power pole caused a power outage that affected over 1,500 residents in Colwood on Monday morning. (West Shore RCMP)
Vancouver driver cause of power outage in Colwood

Police detain 27-year-old man for impaired driving investigation

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

(File photo)
RCMP: Two men face charges in reported Parksville fatal hit-and-run

Investigation into man’s death began in August of 2019

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Steven Michael Bacon pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder of Nanaimo teen Makayla Chang. (Photos submitted)
Accused pleads not guilty in Nanaimo teen’s 2017 murder

Steven Bacon appeared in Nanaimo court Monday via video link from Thunder Bay

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Kootenay couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Most Read