COVID fatigue, lack of urgency a hurdle for booster campaign

Fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccines have started to roll out across the country as provinces expand eligibility requirements. Alberta is the latest province to expand access to second booster doses, joining other provinces including Ontario in allowing adults over the age of 18 to get another shot.

On this episode of Editor’s Edition, Yahoo Finance Canada’s Alicja Siekierska and the Public Policy Forum’s Sean Speer discuss the challenges public health officials may have with this latest vaccination effort. Speer says public health officials – Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore in particular – need to offer “greater precision” when it comes to messaging around vaccines.

“I think that Dr. Moore's comments probably have harmed the kind of public momentum around boosters,” Speer said.

Video Transcript

ALICJA SIEKIERSKA: Sean, what do you see as the big challenge in this vaccine campaign compared to previous iterations?

SEAN SPEER: I would say two words-- the first is fatigue and the second is urgency. Viewers will know in the second half of 2021, there was a real urgency on the part of Canadians to get vaccinated, because that unlocked our participation in the economy and society more broadly. But it's-- and urgency has diminished since the summer of 2021 and been replaced by a kind of growing fatigue, not just with vaccinations, but with the pandemic more generally.

And so it seems to me the biggest challenge facing policymakers and public health officials is how to overcome that fatigue and restore that sense of urgency and momentum in order to keep up the high impressive rates of vaccination that we've managed to achieve as a country since vaccines became widely available in the first half of 2021.

ALICJA SIEKIERSKA: And it certainly, I think, reflects just the time that we're in right now, and the fact that vaccine mandates have been lifted, and you're right, there isn't that sort of urgency. But I think also there is some confusion around the messaging of the fourth doses and the necessity of it. Here's what Ontario's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Kieran Moore said at a press conference last week.

You may get a second booster dose, but it's not a should. We have persistent and powerful immunity stretching past six months in younger and healthier people, so it's not an obligation to get a second booster dose. But then there are other doctors that we're seeing out there saying, go get it now. This is something you should do.

So I think there is a little bit of confusion at play here. Where does that leave people? And do you think this is something contributing to this varied uptake from the previous rounds?

SEAN SPEER: I think the short answer is, yes, Alicja. You know, given the lack of urgency and the growing fatigue that we've been talking about, it seems to me that the margin for error in terms of messaging and communications from public health officials is even smaller than it's been at different times in the pandemic. And so I found Dr. Moore's comments last week extraordinary-- not only are there the comments that you referred to earlier-- and as I interpreted him, he was almost encouraging people to undertake something of a kind of individual cost-benefit analysis of whether to get vaccinated or not get a booster in the name of avoiding potential health risks from the vaccine.

That's a completely different message than we've heard for the past several months. I mean, just think about it, Alicja-- there was a time when we were precluding people from working, from traveling, et cetera if they weren't prepared to get vaccinated. At that point, we weren't talking about individual cost-benefit analysis. So I guess it's a long way of saying, not only do I think that Dr. Moore's comments probably have harmed the kind of public momentum around boosters, it seems to me that they are a boon to anti-vaxxers across the country who now have a proof point from a major public health voice in the country that there is considerable risk associated with getting vaccinated that people ought to be thinking about it. It really does reinforce the need for kind of greater precision from our public health officials as the vaccination effort continues.

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