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Poor public trust, safety concerns could limit COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness: U of G prof

Vaccine hesitancy specialist says now is the time for officials to prepare public for vaccination

While a COVID-19 vaccine may seem like an easy ticket back to life before the “new normal”, some Canadians may find themselves uncomfortable with the prospect of rolling up their sleeves for a quick shot. Whether it be from concerns regarding vaccine safety, a lack of trust in health officials and governance or misinformation, a lack of adoption could leave an effective COVID-19 vaccine dead on arrival.

Maya Goldenberg is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Guelph, specializing in vaccine hesitancy and the philosophy of science and medicine. She said health leaders should begin discussing vaccines with the population now – before citizens face the decision about whether to get their shots in order to build public trust.

“A moderately effective vaccine, which is likely to be the case for COVID-19, may earn low public uptake – as is the case with seasonal influenza vaccines…” said Goldenberg. “The public needs honest and clear messaging about the efficacy and safety of any vaccine, and what it offers in terms of personal and community protection.”

With several vaccines now in final phase 3 of testing, Goldenberg said it’s important for public health officials to be transparent about how vaccines are developed and tested – and the potential side effects that could be encountered. With many countries prioritizing the rapid development of a vaccine, some individuals may find themselves concerned with potential shortcomings from production shortcuts.

“The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccine candidates has been scientifically and logistically impressive…” said Goldenberg. “…but members of the public are reasonably concerned that safety measures may be sidestepped in this ‘warp speed’ race for a vaccine.”

Goldenberg said that the issue of vaccine hesitancy is not driven by anti-science beliefs, but rather from individuals questioning the integrity of scientific research. While misinformation on social media, protests and a lack of vigorous testing may damage public trust in a potential vaccine, Goldenberg said that the Canadian government has a responsibility to keep the public well informed.

“The public will accept vaccines to the extent that they think governing bodies in charge of public health and safety are doing their jobs well – and are adequately working to protect the best interests and well-being of the public.”

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