Opinion: False information is circulating that can provoke worry and concern. The best treatment for health-related fear is robust science

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If you have a presence on social media, chances are you have been inundated recently with photos of rolled-up sleeves and shouts of joy from friends and family who have booked — or even received — their coronavirus vaccine.

Maybe you have posted about this experience yourself.

But if you’re looking online for information around the pandemic, and, in particular, the science behind these new vaccines, you may find yourself more confused than confident.

The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines — including those introduced by Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson and Johnson — is a remarkable scientific achievement.

As physicians, we have every confidence in the vaccines that Canada has approved for use. The underlying science is sound, and studies confirm both the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines.

The results have been better than anyone initially anticipated: Once vaccinated, the vast majority of people will be protected against becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.


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Until we have most people vaccinated, however, there is a risk that the virus will still continue to spread and cause illness, and those who are vulnerable could still be at high risk.

That means we need to get the vaccine into the arms of every willing adult as quickly as we can if we hope to regain a semblance of life as we knew it prior to March 2020.

Certainly, we have seen some encouraging milestones in recent weeks as the largest vaccination rollout in the country’s history gathers pace. In Canada, 3.5 million people — more than nine per cent of the population — have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine so far. That statistic jumps to nearly 60 per cent among adults over 80 years old, some of them residents of care homes and who have felt the devastating brunt of the pandemic.

Globally, more than 550 million people have been vaccinated — a number that is increasing by about 10 million each day.

As expansive as the rollout effort is, we know there are also many Canadians who are hesitant to take the vaccine.

Long before the pandemic turned our world upside down seemingly overnight, the World Health Organization recognized “vaccine hesitancy” as a growing global concern. The reasons behind this hesitancy are complex, but encompass themes of confidence, complacency and convenience.

The pandemic has served to bolster this challenge.

The record-breaking speed at which vaccines have been developed and the complexity of the science behind this incredible accomplishment led some people to question their efficacy.


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Add to that the plethora of information at our fingertips: A quick search online or on social media will turn up all kinds of confusing commentary, cautions and, disturbingly, alarming conspiracy theories from questionable sources.

After such a difficult year, misinformation is the last thing we need right now.

Canada has experts independently reviewing data about vaccine safety and effectiveness. The recent recommendation by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization to pause the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in those under age 55, out of an abundance of caution, is an example of the dynamic, real-time scientific analysis that is ongoing in this area. In addition, the government is launching a multi-platform campaign to inform the public about the science behind the vaccines, how the trials are going, and the status of the rollout.

With so much at stake, however, reliably informing ourselves, and our loved ones, is a responsibility we must all take onboard.

Here are a few tips to help you or your loved ones make informed decisions and overcome uncertainty related to the vaccine:

• If you’re looking for information about vaccine safety, stick to reputable news sources and medical organizations like Health Canada or your provincial medical officer. Avoid social media as a primary source of medical advice.

• Connect with a trusted healthcare professional: Have a conversation with your family doctor or nurse practitioner about why getting vaccinated is important not only for you, but also for your family, friends, colleagues and community.


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• Share information from credible sources — like Health Canada, your provincial health officer, and family doctor — with friends and family. Because this has been a stressful, uncertain time and the science is evolving rapidly, false information is circulating that can provoke worry and concern. The best treatment for health-related fear is robust science.

• Getting vaccinated is not just about protecting yourself. You’re also protecting others, supporting front-line nurses and doctors who have worked tirelessly to keep people safe, and helping your whole community get back to work, school, and play again.

The vaccines are here, and they work.

So when it comes time to take your shot, we urge you to get it, and encourage those you care about to do so, too. Getting vaccinated is our fastest path to getting out of isolation and returning to our pre-COVID lives. More importantly, it’s the best way to save lives.

Keir Peterson is the chief medical officer for Babylon by TELUS Health; Diane McIntosh is the chief neuroscience officer at TELUS.


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