The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit’s vaccination rate has plateaued: about one in four people over the age of 12 in the area has not gotten a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
As with any inoculation, there was never any illusion that 100% of the population would get it, but the vaccination rate remains noticeably lower in the 40 and under population, with just 57% of 18–29-year-olds getting at least one dose as of July 20. This comes a week after Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore noted that over the last three months, 96 per cent of people between the ages of 19 and 29 who were infected with COVID-19 weren’t vaccinated against the virus.
The Tribune talked to some locals who haven’t received a COVID-19 vaccine to better understand why they’re hesitant to get it or outright against it. The goal was to provide an empathetic ear, without offering a platform to spread unsubstantiated claims about the vaccines. Some concerns were rooted in misinformation, some offered valid reasons for caution. Regardless of how these individuals arrived at their decision to not get the shot, there was a consistent message across the board: this is not a choice any of them will be “peer-pressured” into.
“If I’m going to, I’ll do it willingly, but people need to respect the decisions of not wanting the vaccine,” says Jodi Gardner. “I respect them for getting it, I deserve respect for my own decision.”
A common thread for why respondents are skeptical about the vaccines’ safety is that they feel their development was “rushed,” after seeing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines get approved by Health Canada one year after COVID-19 was first identified.
“Trust me I’m not against vaccinations, my children are vaccinated. I just don’t trust anything that took less than a few years to develop,” says Gardiner.
Dr. Carol Zimbalatti, Public Health Physician with the NBPSHU, says that any preconceived notions regarding how long it takes to develop a vaccine need to be adjusted in this case, not only because of recent advancements in technology, but because of the sheer number of resources devoted to solving this global issue.
“Certainly, it was very important on a global scale for us to have access to COVID-19 vaccines, so a lot of resources were poured into developing these vaccines quickly, which means there was the same amount of work that went into it, but it was just done in a more concentrated fashion because we had so many more resources thrown at this,” says Zimbalatti. “Likewise, in terms of the approval processes it was very important that all of the necessary steps and due process took place to approve the vaccines, but recognizing the need to have the vaccines and to have them available quickly, more resources were poured into the approval process so that it could occur more quickly with all of the checks and balances still in place.”
When it comes to concerns surrounding side effects, it was unclear how many respondents were working with accurate information when it came to making their decision. Their news habits varied – some got it via social media, others through friends – but there was a general mistrust or skepticism of “the media.”
“I’m no conspiracy theorist; I do believe that, sure COVID is real, but the media has pushed COVID to make it seem much worse than it is,” says Kasey Hellawell. “Obviously, media outlets know that fear gets views.”