Breaking down barriers needed to reach 90 per cent vaccine coverage: Etches

Despite the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in the capital slowing down, Ottawa's medical officer of health says the goal of reaching 90 per cent of the eligible population is within reach, but there are barriers to overcome.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Dr. Vera Etches said Ottawa's COVID-19 vaccine uptake is strong, but there are still many people in the city who have yet to be vaccinated.

"Every day, we are getting closer to achieving our goal of fully vaccinating 90 per cent of the eligible population of Ottawa," Etches said.

Etches said early survey data indicated 82 per cent of residents were planning to be vaccinated as soon as vaccines were available and, as of Wednesday, 83 per cent of eligible residents 12 and older have had at least one dose. Ottawa Public Health clarified the 82 per cent figure cited by Dr. Etches was an estimate based on numbers from six weeks of EKOS polling, and was an average based on weekly data between January and May 2021.

However, polling also suggested that fewer than 10 per cent of people were not planning to be vaccinated and approximately 10 per cent of respondents were unsure if they would get a vaccine or not.

"It's been Ottawa Public Health's job to make sure that everyone has the information they need to make an informed decision about getting vaccinated and this work will continue," she said.

There are approximately 284,000 residents of Ottawa who have not had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. About 130,000 of them are children under 12.

Etches says the remaining individuals who have yet to be vaccinated include people who face barriers to vaccination.

"Now, we're working through a group who are unsure and it does take more time to have those conversations with people," Etches said. "But it's not just people who were unsure. There are still real barriers for some. We've talked to people to understand what those barriers are. It's childcare, it's still transportation. It's why we're going out more and more with the mobile options."

Businesses, community groups, places of worship, and others can request a mobile vaccination team to administer first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine on-site at their location by contacting Ottawa Public Health.

Uptake in mobile clinics was immediate, Etches, said, with approximately 50 organizations requesting them so far.

She also said OPH would be working with schools in the fall to help address barriers that may have prevented people from being vaccinated.

  COVID-19 vaccine coverage in Ottawa
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How to talk to people who are unsure about being vaccinated

"Achieving 90 per cent is possible but we will need to work together as a community," Etches said.

She encouraged people who are still unsure about the safety or effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, or who is just unsure how to get a vaccine, to reach out to someone.

"Talk to your family physician, a family member or a friend who might have been in a similar situation, or an Ottawa Public Health nurse or team member. They are here to listen and they will listen with compassion."

Etches also encouraged people who were hesitant at first but later changed their minds to share their stories, and she said to approach others' concerns with kindness.

"If you find yourself talking with a friend or loved one who isn't sure about vaccines, there are ways to do that without judgement," she said.

"Engage the person with open-ended questions like, 'What could I clarify for you?' instead of yes or no questions. Listen more than you speak. Most people just need a safe place to let their thoughts out and be organized.

"Avoid belittling or shaming, dismissing, or judging someone for being hesitant or having questions and don't assume what someone's reasons are for being hesitant. Start with listening."

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