U of S study reveals factors behind vaccine resistance in Saskatchewan

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The study shows 76 per cent expressed willingness to get a COVID-19 vaccine, while 11 per cent said they would refuse vaccination.

Author of the article:

Phil Tank  •  Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine is a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan.
Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine is a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan. Photo by Matt Smith /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Even though Saskatchewan’s vaccine rollout began nearly nine months ago, Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine thinks a study on vaccine resistance will help with the next phase for children under 12.

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Muhajarine and a team of researchers from the University of Saskatchewan tracked COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and refusal over nearly a year, starting in the spring of 2020.

The study found that less than a quarter of respondents expressed either hesitancy or opposition to vaccination, and factors that contributed to this resistance included lower levels of education, financial insecurity and Indigenous status.

Muhajarine said in an interview on Monday that the findings remain relevant, even though much of the work was done before the vaccination rollout in Saskatchewan began in March.

“I think that the findings still hold,” he said of the study published Friday. “The essential findings about who is hesitating, who is refusing, still holds to the current time.”

The study collected online responses on attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccination from 9,252 Saskatchewan adults, some of whom belonged to an online group and some of whom volunteered, between May 4, 2020 and April 3, 2021.

The researchers analyzed the responses to determine what factors were driving vaccine resistance. Most of the respondents, 76 per cent, expressed a willingness to be vaccinated.

Thirteen per cent said they had yet to decide on vaccination, while 11 per cent said they would not get vaccinated. The researchers found a lack of concern about the pandemic among this 24 per cent.

The 11 per cent who said they did not plan to get vaccinated were also found to be less likely to wear masks or maintain distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.

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Women and newcomers to Canada were also determined to be more likely to be hesitant about the vaccines, the study found. Muhajarine attributed the hesitancy by women to misinformation that spread during the early stages of the vaccine rollout.

“They’re not all that surprising; they’re very consistent with other health outcomes as well,” Muhajarine said of the study’s results.

About 80 per cent of people in Saskatchewan older than 11 who are eligible to be vaccinated have received both doses for full immunization. Muhajarine noted some areas of the province lag behind others, which means more effort is needed to direct information at certain groups and locations.

Saskatchewan also sits near the bottom in vaccination rates in Canada, well behind the national vaccination rate.

Muhajarine said more effort is needed to address the people who remain hesitant to get vaccinated as opposed to those determined to refuse vaccination.

“For those people, we need to do more,” he said. “We need to be very targeted now, very focused. (Address) what the concerns are that they have in getting a vaccine.”

Muhajarine suggested more information is still needed about the effectiveness of vaccines and of the sometimes dire circumstances for those who are not yet immunized.

The next phase of vaccination for children aged five to 11 could begin within weeks, pending approval by Health Canada. Saskatchewan has already begun planning for this phase.

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It could prove challenging, even for parents who believe in the vaccines, Muhajarine said.

“There are going to be parents who are vaccinated themselves, but who will hesitate, who will think twice about getting their kids vaccinated.”

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twitter.com/thinktankSK

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