OP-ED: Vaccination, trust in science and patience is the only way out of this pandemic

By Linda Silas

A COVID-free future is within our reach – a future where it’s safe to hug again and where our smiles no longer need to be hidden behind a mask. To get there, we will need a robust vaccination drive. We will need Canadians to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated. But we will also need to be patient. Immunizing the country won’t happen overnight. It will be an incremental process informed by science and one that seeks to immediately stem the loss of life.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions encouraged all health care workers, all essential workers and the general public to receive the vaccine when they become eligible. We also urged governments across Canada to speed up the rollout of the vaccine, especially to those most likely to experience severe illness, such as seniors, Indigenous people and racialized people – all of whom have been shown to be most at risk of infection.

Nurses have also signaled that they are ready and willing to step up and help the government with the vaccine rollout by joining health care teams at vaccination clinics across Canada. While the news of some delays in delivery of the Pfizer vaccine may give us pause, governments must strive to speed up the immunization and rapidly increase the number of clinics where the vaccine is available. This is how we will contain this virus and counter its spread.

What’s also been lacking in Canada’s vaccine delivery program is evidence-based information. Within this vacuum, misinformation, vaccine myths and mistrust have thrived. Sadly, many Canadians are hesitant to get vaccinated, particularly among marginalized communities who, we recognize, have all too often experienced negative interactions with the medical community.

As nurses, we believe that any risk posed by the vaccine is far outweighed by the benefits in being protected from COVID-19.

As with any other medical treatment, informed consent is required. It’s our job, as health professionals, to provide facts – and yes, empathy – when patients express concerns about being vaccinated. Everyone who gets the vaccine must understand the benefits of immunization, as well as any potential risks. All Canadians should be empowered to make an informed decision.

Some individuals have expressed concerns about the record turnaround time for these vaccines. Producing multiple vaccines in less than a year was the result of a momentous global effort, harnessing the ingenuity of a scientific community united in a common objective. Large-scale trials on the efficacy of vaccines involved tens of thousands of participants, including many from diverse backgrounds. The trials resulted in high rates of protection with few or no reported serious adverse events. Despite the compressed timelines, no shortcuts were taken: the same standards were applied to these vaccines as for any other vaccines that have been developed.

In Canada, we know the approval process by Health Canada is safe and effective; their assessment of scientific and clinical evidence is done independently and is known to be stringent. We also know that historically, immunization programs have saved countless lives worldwide. The COVID-19 vaccines approved thus far have the potential to provide much-needed protection against the continued spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus but this will only happen if sufficient numbers choose to be vaccinated.

As Canada’s nurses, we want to encourage all those living in Canada to receive the vaccine as soon as they are able. Together, we can contain this virus, end the pandemic and take part in Canada’s post-pandemic recovery.

Linda Silas is a nurse and President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, representing nearly 200,000 nurses and student nurses across the country.