Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A personal support worker receives a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at St. Michael's Hospital, in Toronto, on Dec. 22, 2020.

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Force them. Fine them. Fire them.

When stories emerge of a significant minority of health care workers refusing to take the coronavirus vaccine, the response is often an angry one.

Of course, hospital and long-term care homes desperately want workers to get the vaccine, because it’s one of the best ways to protect patients and residents.

Story continues below advertisement

But instead of the knee-jerk demands to bring down the hammer – instead of shaming and blaming – we should be stepping back and making an effort to understand why this is happening.

First of all, we need to realize that health care workers are no different than the rest of the public. Their views are all over the map on any number of topics, and vaccination is no exception. Health training does not magically inoculate you from the ravages of misinformation.

Like the general public, the large majority of personal support workers, nurses, physicians, paramedics and myriad other health professionals will get a coronavirus vaccine. Many are clamouring to get the shot – the sooner the better.

Still, we need to pay attention to the hesitant minority.

Hesitancy is not the same as opposition. And hesitancy is the right word here. Very few people are actually anti-vaccination.

Hesitancy, or skepticism, is not, in itself, a bad thing. We should all be cautious and ask questions, and weigh the benefits and risks of everything we put into our bodies – food, drink and drugs, including vaccines.

Why vaccines get so much more scrutiny than any other of those substances is another matter.

Story continues below advertisement

It needs to be understood, too, that hesitancy among health workers often has little to do with vaccines themselves. It’s more about empowerment and agency, about doubt and burnout, than the needle itself.

Health care workers don’t get treated that well at the best of times. During the pandemic, many have been crushed by additional demands, from working in unsafe conditions to being denied holidays, to being taken for granted.

The loss of sense of control is palpable. Saying “no” to a vaccine is one way of saying: “I’m tired of being walked all over.” Maybe not the best way, but you use the tools at your disposal.

Much has been written about Canada’s bumbling vaccine rollout. A lot of the focus has been on logistics, but the communications aspect has been particularly poor.

The campaign to get health workers to embrace the coronavirus vaccine should have begun months before the shipments of vials began. Fear-assuaging education is especially important when we’re dealing with the unknown, a novel coronavirus and a vaccine made with new, unproven messenger RNA technology.

Even now, we expect health workers to “do their duty” silently. There is such a dearth of basic information that researchers like Dr. Tara Moriarty of the University of Toronto have taken to doing makeshift Zoom sessions to answer questions and address vaccine misinformation.

Story continues below advertisement

And there are a lot of legitimate questions. Health care workers are predominantly of child-bearing age, but the messaging has been abysmal about the safety of coronavirus vaccines for people who are pregnant (or intend to be) or breastfeeding.

Many health care workers, especially those in lower-paid jobs like personal-support workers, are also from racialized, multilingual communities. Not enough effort has been made to communicate in commonly spoken languages such as Tagalog, Punjabi, Arabic and Somali, or on social media platforms like WhatsApp, which are popular in minority communities.

There are also practical barriers to vaccination for health workers. Some have to drive hours to clinics to get the shot. Child care is not readily available. The vaccine can cause side effects such as fever that may require workers to take time off – a double burden for those who don’t have paid sick leave.

Vaccine hesitancy among health care workers can be disheartening. But it can be turned around, with everything from leading by example (vaccine selfies by peers is a powerful motivator) to addressing the underlying causes of hesitation.

Forcing health workers to be vaccinated – even if it is legal, and that’s not clear – is not the way to go. Nor is punishing them. It’s laziness.

If we put more effort into valuing the work of health workers, we would have a lot more vaccine buy-in.

Story continues below advertisement

Besides, if we can’t convince health workers – those who see the ravages of COVID-19 up-close – to embrace vaccination as our way out of this pandemic, what hope do we have of winning over the general public?

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies