In comparison with other countries, Canadians are doing a good job of embracing vaccinations as a way out of the pandemic, says Dr. Mustafa Hirji.
The acting chief medical officer of health says Canadians are less reticent to take the vaccine. He believes because Canadians do a better job of looking at what is better for society at large, and doing their civic duty, there has been a greater uptake for vaccinations in Canada.
The number of people being vaccinated in the U.K. has stalled, he says, and in the U.S., there are people, including politicians, who are opposed to any vaccinations.
Niagara-on-the-Lake resident John Holdom represents the Canadian Hirji is describing. At 63, he “leapt at the chance” to get his first dose of AstraZeneca at a pharmacy in Toronto, close to where he still has a condo, although he moved to NOTL when the COVID pandemic began. Four hours after that phone call, he was vaccinated.
When he learned there was a window of opportunity to get a second dose, to use up the supply of AstraZeneca that is set to expire before the end of the month, he called the same pharmacy for an appointment. He was disappointed to learn the pharmacy had used up its allotment, but would let him know when more is available.
“I’m looking forward to it, and not the least bit hesitant.” He says he believes in the science that shows the risk is very low, and the vaccine is very effective.
“I consider it a privilege to be vaccinated, and an opportunity to contribute to the greater good. I believe most people, Canadians in general, and in our community especially, share my belief, and because of that, I think we’ll surpass the U.S. and possibly the U.K. It’s our way out of the pandemic. We are committed to the greater good, taking what’s on offer and getting vaccinated.”
He remembers how relieved he felt to have the first dose. “It was an extraordinary feeling, that it was the most important thing I’d done in a long time. It was emotional, and a huge relief.”
As vaccinations become available for the younger generations, it seems the same message is holding true for many teens and their parents.
Although social media is showing some teens are hesitant about being vaccinated, others can’t wait for their turn.
Mateo Gruosso Roman, 16, and his brother Marco Gruosso, 14, will be getting vaccinated next week. When the 12 and over age group opened up Sunday morning, his mother went online to book them both appointments at one of the MacBain Community Centre clinics, and his nine-year-old brother will be the next in line when appointments open up for his age group.
“I’m very excited to get it,” says Mateo. “We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. I see it as going in the right direction for all of us.”
Mateo says he considers being vaccinated as a way to help himself and those around him, as well as being part of the solution, paving the way out of the pandemic and back to a more normal situation.
His grandparents and parents also have their first dose, so having everyone vaccinated in the family seems the right thing to do, he says.
“I share the same perspective as my parents. There’s a sense of doing something right during the lockdown. There is no hesitancy in my family.”
A Grade 10 student at Saint Paul Catholic School in Niagara Falls, he is also looking forward to the day when in-person classes resume. He says several of his friends have had discussions about vaccines, and while his closest friend also has his appointment, “I have other friends who say they’ll wait and see how this pans out. I don’t see that waiting will change anything. But other people have a different perspective.”
It’s a topic his friends are talking about, now that vaccinations are available for younger age groups, he says. “It’s on everybody’s mind.”
He and his friends understand “nothing is going to change in an instant,” he adds but as someone who plays hockey and soccer, Mateo is hoping team sports will be able to resume at some point this summer. Having teens vaccinated is a step in the right direction, and any opening up of activities “will be a bonus.”
Janvi Ganatra, chair of the Lord Mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee, was on her phone at 8 a.m. the day vaccination appointments opened up for her age group. About 20 minutes later, she had an appointment booked, and will head to the MacBain Community Centre in Niagara Falls to get her first dose June 4.
Is she excited? Not to have her arm jabbed — needles terrify her, she says.
But the A.N. Myer Secondary School student is happy, after what seems like a long wait, to finally have the opportunity for a vaccination.
It was never a discussion with her family, or an issue to discuss — as soon as it became available, her parents agreed she’d be getting it, she says.
Ganatra will be moving into student housing at the University of Waterloo in September, for a hybrid mode of education, and she’s looking forward to both online and in-person classes.
“I’ve decided it will be best to be there, at university, and it will definitely be better to be vaccinated,” she says.
She say although she’s seen hesitancy to be vaccinated from those her age on social media, her friends are all excited to get their first dose, and have their appointments booked.
“Everyone I talk to is really anxious to get it. I feel privileged to be able to be vaccinated at this point. We’ve all been waiting for so long. And it’s pretty amazing that we are all getting it the same week.”
She’s also seen some signs on social media that some in her age group are looking at the vaccination as a path to freedom, and an invitation to begin meeting up with friends
“That’s not the wisest decision. We’re still in a stay-at-home order, and it’s only the first dose. I see a lot of teens not taking that into consideration.”
Ganatra is fortunate to have a second dose booked for a Friday in September, the timing right to give her a long weekend back in Niagara.
Ellie Harrison, another 18-year-old from Niagara-on-the-Lake about to graduate from A.N. Myer, was also on the provincial online booking site as soon as appointments opened up to those in her age group, and is thrilled to be receiving her vaccination June 2. She too is heading off to the University of Waterloo in September, to study biology, and wants to be vaccinated before she goes.
She and her parents were a little concerned about which vaccination she would be receiving after the news connecting AstraZeneca to blood clots, and was reassured to discover those in her age group will be given only Pfizer or Moderna. She feels pretty confident about the safety of both of those, and her parents are very supportive of her receiving a vaccination, she says.
Her parents were both vaccinated early in the roll-out, because of their jobs, and there was no hesitancy about signing up when it was her turn. “I knew as soon as it became available I’d be getting it.”
Being at home with family, COVID hasn’t been much of a concern, but going off to live in residence will be different, says Harrison, who is hoping the roommate assigned to her will also be vaccinated. “If she isn’t, that would be a concern,” she says. “I hope to know a few weeks ahead of time. That’s important information.”
There are also a lot of questions to what university will look like, such as whether friends and family will be able to visit.
Of one thing she is sure — she’s glad to be going off to university this September, rather than last year, before vaccinations, when many students stayed home for online studies or deferred their first year.
Like Ganatra, Harrison will be taking a hybrid of online and in-person classes, and pictures creating “a group of people around her,” hopefully also vaccinated, who are taking the same courses.
Vaccinations, especially among the younger groups, where outbreaks have been occurring, and in hotspots across the province, have contributed to the continuing downward trend in COVID cases in Ontario, says Hirji.
The increase in the distribution of vaccines to those hotspot areas accomplished what it was intended to do, reducing the number of cases province-wide, along with the number of hospital and intensive care admissions, which are down from more than 900, and are expected to be at about 400 by mid-June.
There has also been a decline in cases in Niagara, but not as steep, because there weren’t the number of hotspots.
Hirji says he’s “pretty optimistic” by mid-June a low number of cases, and high percentage of vaccinations, could allow for a safe reopening that would keep the number of cases down.
The province is actually on target to beat the goals it has set for vaccinations, he said, with a mid-June goal of 75 per cent of the population having a first dose seeming likely.
Ontario has now passed the 60 per cent, and in Niagara, more than 50 per cent of adults are vaccinated, with the number of younger people continuing to increase.