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Convincing the holdouts remains the goal of public-health officials, who say vaccination is our best way of ending the pandemic

From left: Fadhwa Yusuf, Jeff McLeod and Harbinder Singh.Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail, Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail, Handout

Canada is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, with 86.57 per cent of the eligible population having received at least one dose as of Oct. 2. But convincing the holdouts remains the goal of public-health officials, who say vaccination is our best way of ending the pandemic.

What’s important to understand is very few people fall into the staunch anti-vax camp, said Dr. Jia Hu, a former medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services and a physician with 19 to Zero, a campaign to increase vaccine uptake across Canada.

Typically, three factors drive people to get vaccinated, he said. “One is how worried people are about COVID,” he said. “The other is what I call general confidence in the vaccine.” The third is how accessible the vaccine is.

But now there is a fourth: passports. Their introduction across the country has resulted in “uptake across the board,” Dr. Hu said. “The vast majority are doing it so they can fly or go to restaurants.”

The Globe and Mail reached out to vaccine holdouts to learn what finally made them change their minds. Their reasons vary, but as long as people get vaccinated, it doesn’t really matter why, Dr. Hu said.

Canada vaccine tracker: How many COVID-19 doses have been administered so far?

Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

Fadhwa Yusuf

Age: 45

City: Kitchener, Ont.

Date of first dose: Sept. 14

After months of going back and forth over the decision, Fadhwa Yusuf finally got her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine in the fall. The 45-year-old resident of Kitchener, Ont., said it was her work in the hospitality sector that tipped the scales. Ms. Yusuf is a front-desk manager, which means she has to interact with people on a regular basis.

The social isolation was a big factor behind her decision, she said. “I felt an isolation within the isolation. You can’t go places, can’t have that connection with your friends and can’t take your kids anywhere. You’re the one who’s left out. So that pressure finally got to me.”

Ms. Yusuf said she was hesitant for a long time because she felt she didn’t have all the information.

“I was just scared of what it would do to me and to my health. I just wanted to make a very good, informed decision. In the end, I had to feel comfortable enough to do it. I didn’t want to do it out of fear or pressure. I had to actually be ready.”

She got over initial hesitancy in large part due to her 18-year-old daughter, who persuaded Ms. Yusuf to get the vaccine. Seeing her daughter react well to the shot gave her confidence. “She played a huge role in me making this informed decision. When I finally got it, she was so happy.”

Apart from a sore arm and mild fatigue, Ms. Yusuf felt no adverse side effects. She is now looking forward to her second dose, which she can get as early as October.

“Each one of us has a role to play in keeping not only our families, but our communities safe,” she said.

– Uday Rana

The Globe and Mail

Caroline Hartley

Age: 55

City: Olds, Alta.

Date of first dose: Sept. 20

Caroline Hartley didn’t know what to believe. She heard good news about the COVID-19 vaccine, and research that supported getting it, from the AM radio station she liked to listen to while driving, but her Facebook feed was crowded with other information that cast suspicion on its effectiveness.

Her husband had high-blood pressure and diabetes, the latter of which had put him in a coma 14 years ago, and at his regular beer-and-wings meetups in Olds, Alta., his friends argued that those conditions put him at higher risk for an adverse outcome if he got vaccinated. In fact, he was at higher risk for hospitalization or death from COVID-19 because of those conditions.

His “crazy redneck friends” were sitting around the bar sharing all kinds of nonsense, Ms. Hartley said, now with a clearer sense of which information to trust.

Ms. Hartley, who had voted for Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party, grew worried and angry seeing the impact of the Premier’s decision to lift pandemic-related restrictions in the summer as the virus spread like wildfire and the health care system was pushed to its brink. But still, she and her husband remained “fence-sitters” when it came to getting vaccinated.

In late September, five days after her province announced it would introduce a proof-of-vaccination program, Ms. Hartley received her first dose – and she’s caught some flak from friends for it.

Half her motivation, she said, was worrying that she might not be able to fly to New Brunswick to visit her mother without being fully vaccinated. The other was she feared she might lose her job. The company she works for installs security systems at condos in downtown Calgary and property managers were saying they would not permit employees to enter if they weren’t vaccinated.

“This is my favourite job ever and when you’re 55, trust me, you can’t find another job anywhere else,” she said.

On a recent night out for beer and wings, Ms. Hartley and her husband (who also had received his first dose), learned that the friends they were with – who were vehemently opposed to being vaccinated – were using fraudulent vaccine passports.

One asked her, “Does it bother you that I don’t have the vaccine?”

“No,” she replied, “But you can stay at least 10 feet away from me because the last thing I want is that … variant.”

– Dakshana Bascaramurty

The Globe and Mail

Harbinder Singh

Age: 27

City: Terrace, B.C.

Date of first dose: Sept. 8

Throughout the summer, there were many moments of tension when passengers would climb into the back of Harbinder Singh’s taxi and ask whether he was vaccinated.

He’d say “not yet” and hope that the mask he was wearing and the Plexiglas screen that separated him from his passengers would be enough to assuage their concerns. And in the northwestern B.C. town of Terrace, where he lives, they might be waiting a while for another ride.

When the vaccines had first been approved in Canada at the end of 2020, Mr. Singh, 27, wasn’t opposed to getting one, but his family and friends – both here and in Patiala, the north Indian city he’s from – changed his mind.

Now he recognizes what they shared with him as misinformation or “fake news” about the threat of COVID-19 and the risks of being vaccinated.

Earlier this year, two distant relatives in India were diagnosed with COVID-19 and admitted to hospital. While in hospital, they were given the vaccine, Mr. Singh said, and died days later. While doctors said the deaths were from COVID-19 (and that underlying conditions had put them at risk for a more severe outcome), Mr. Singh’s family refused to believe it and blamed the vaccine.

A few weeks ago, though, Mr. Singh had a change of heart.

Learning in early September that his province was introducing a vaccine passport – that he wouldn’t be able to go to banks or restaurants without showing proof he’d received his shots – served as a strong motivation.

He also travels to India every year or two and realized he’d need to show proof of vaccination to fly home. (His family back home have all been vaccinated recently, also motivated by their desire to travel.)

But what really swayed Mr. Singh was talking it through with a good friend of his, a fellow taxi driver, who also got his shot recently.

“They said it’s normal … nothing to worry about,” Mr. Singh said. “He said it’s good for safety for me and my customer also.”

Soon after he got his first dose on Sept. 8 he downloaded his proof of vaccination card.

“Now if any customer asks me, then I show that one,” he said.

– Dakshana Bascaramurty

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Jeff McLeod

Age: 45

City: Renfrew, Ont.

Date of first dose: Sept. 8

Jeff McLeod’s wife and their two teenage kids had been vaccinated earlier this year, but he was reluctant to get the jab. “I was absolutely in no rush to do it,” said Mr. McLeod, who runs an HVAC company. “I really didn’t feel that it was something I wanted to jump into. It’s so new.”

But as vaccine passports appeared on the horizon, some of Mr. McLeod’s biggest clients, including a hospital and seniors homes, sent him letters informing him that he would not be allowed entry without proof of vaccination as of Sept. 22. He felt he had no choice.

“It was taking food off my table, so I had to get it done,” Mr. McLeod said. He might have been able to pay the bills by finding other customers, but he didn’t want to have to.

“Do I want to give up good paying clients? No. I was really bothered by it because of the pressure being pushed on you.”

Still, his wife and children were glad to hear he decided to get vaccinated, especially because it means they’ll be able to go to Cuba or Mexico this winter.

“They were happy about it. My wife wants to go away.”

– Dave McGinn

The Globe and Mail

Catherine McGovern

Age: 57

City: Vernon, B.C.

Date of First Dose: Aug. 15

Catherine McGovern made sure her five kids were fully vaccinated when they were growing up, and she has always been just as adamant about being up to date with her travel vaccines.

“I’m not a conspiracy theory person, I’m not an anti-vaxxer,” she said. “I’m definitely pro-vaccine.”

Still, the newness of the COVID-19 vaccines gave her pause, and so she was intent on masking and physical distancing but waiting to get the vaccine until spring of 2022.

But with talk of vaccine passports on the horizon this summer, Ms. McGovern and her husband, who both run an environmental company, realized they would have to get vaccinated.

“It makes it very difficult to do business,” Ms. McGovern said, particularly because she and her husband fly to the University of Calgary at least once every two weeks.

“We can’t go to the university and we also can’t fly out there to do any business,” she said.

Plus, how could they woo clients while in Calgary unless they were vaccinated?

“You go out for dinner with people, stuff like that. That’s a big part of connecting with people when you’re doing business,” Ms. McGovern said.

She got her second dose on Sept. 20. It didn’t come with much of a sense of relief.

“To be honest, my husband and I, we feel like we’re not living in a free country,” she said. “It’s just more feeling angry that we are forced to get a vaccine that we wanted to wait [to get] in order to live our life.”

– Dave McGinn

Irene Brucculeri

Age: 56

City: Hamilton

Date of first dose: July 1

Despite the terrible toll that COVID-19 has taken, Irene Brucculeri didn’t take the virus too seriously at first. To her mind, it was just another flu. It would come and it would go, just like all the others. She felt she had a strong immune system and didn’t worry about getting the virus herself. “I wasn’t afraid of it at all,” she recalled.

What she did worry about was what would happen if she got the vaccine. She had heard the conspiracy theories about a secret plot to use mass inoculation to implant transmitters in people and follow their movements. She is ashamed to admit it, but she found the idea plausible. Didn’t internet giants already follow her likes online and pitch her ads? “Obviously somebody is watching.”

Then, this spring, some friends of hers got the disease. One woman she knows had a case bad enough that she was on the verge of going to hospital. Ms. Brucculeri began reading more about COVID-19 in the press.

“I started to realize: I’m being an idiot.” Even if she did have a strong immune system, she could pass the disease to someone else. “I couldn’t live with myself if I did that.” Now she has no patience for vaccination holdouts, “sticking their heels in the ground and screaming freedom.” Given what we know now about how safe and effective vaccines are, “I find it very, very selfish.”

– Marcus Gee

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