senators’ statements — Vaccine Hesitancy

May 6, 2021


Honourable colleagues, in one of my first speeches before this chamber I spoke about vaccine hesitancy being one of the top ten global health threats we face today. Over a year later, and now that we are fighting a global pandemic, that threat is much greater.

Statistics Canada reports that 77% of Canadians are willing to get the COVID vaccine, but concerns about the safety of vaccines and potential side effects continue to drive hesitancy. They also indicate that fewer Black Canadians, some 56%, are willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine, highlighting an even greater issue for this community.

Although misinformation continues to be an important driver of hesitancy, emerging data suggests that the increasing threat is linked more closely to public health communications. Canadians are experiencing a lot of mixed messaging, whether originating from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, the Ministry of Health, Health Canada or the Public Health Agency of Canada. Many do not differentiate between the roles these various bodies play, but see these messages as coming from their leaders. It doesn’t help that decisions being made at various levels of government are often discordant and confusing.

This mixed messaging is having a clear impact. A recent Abacus Data poll found that Canadians have become more confident over time in particular vaccines while becoming less confident in others, citing concerns about side effects as the reason. To be clear, the science is sound. If a vaccine has been approved for use in Canada, it is safe and effective. Canadians deserve to hear clear messaging about vaccines. There needs to be greater alignment, contextualization and clarification of information and, when new information emerges, we need consistency in timing, content and careful planning when changing the message.

We, as senators, can be part of the solution, acting as a credible source of information for our communities about vaccines and seeking and targeting pockets of hesitancy within our communities. We must take seriously the fact that we can have an impact on the decisions people make about their lives. Honourable senators, widespread vaccination is necessary to defeat this pandemic, but to do so we must defeat this crisis of confidence.

I will also take a minute to urge you to participate in the work of the Advisory Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion. Our Senate has long embraced its role and duty to protect and advance the voices of minority Canadians. It is crucial that our internal policies support us in this role. It is crucial that we hear as many voices as possible, so I urge everyone to participate.

Thank you.