Public confidence depends on government transparency on coronavirus vaccine, doctors say – National

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Prominent doctors say the federal government needs to step up its communications tactics regarding the coronavirus vaccine – and that public confidence depends on how it goes about it.
“You can have the best vaccine on the planet, but if nobody wants it, it’s pointless. So at the end of the day you have to get people to see the benefits, ”said Dr. Gary Kobinger, who previously served on the Federal Vaccine Task Force before stepping down due to concerns about their level. transparency.

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Kobinger says the government has since taken steps to be extremely transparent about any potential conflicts of interest between members of the task force, which was his main concern when he stepped down.

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But now he is pushing the government to step up efforts in another area: its strategy of communicating the need for and safety of vaccines to the public.

“The most important objective is to maintain and increase the confidence of the population in the processes, in the decisions that are made concerning their health and their life.”










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Allay fears around the COVID-19 vaccine

Kobinger explained that government bureaucracy can weigh on transparency efforts. And at a time when public confidence in a vaccine is essential, he said the government should consider taking innovative steps to be as transparent as possible – even going so far as to suggest that the federal government create an independent body in charge. transparency.

“But what that will create is a point of contact that people can go to, and this information is only based on solid science, not the upcoming election,” Kobinger said.

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He said this independent communication body could be made up of virologists, immunologists, psychologists, economists and journalists who would be able to engage with the public and answer their questions.

Although the government has given no indication of its intention to explore these kinds of innovative options, it has held regular press conferences to communicate the latest coronavirus news.


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The government has made a habit of providing weekly briefings with representatives from Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, alongside federal ministers, to take stock of developments in vaccine deployment. in Canada and the response to coronaviruses. Sometimes ministers address the public several times a week – and the prime minister usually attends one of these briefings.

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While these press conferences are typically televised live on media platforms and give reporters the nuggets of news they then broadcast to a general audience through their reporting, infectious disease specialist Dr Isaac Bogoch said. Echoing Kobinger’s call for vaccine transparency.

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“You really have to educate people about what these vaccines are, what they can expect and how this plan is going to be implemented. Just total transparency. And I think it’s important to know that we don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay to say, ”Bogoch told Global News in an interview.


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He added that it is important to translate this information into formats that allow Canadians who speak different languages ​​or belong to a younger age group to understand the sometimes complex science behind the vaccine effort.

“There are a lot of communities in the country and you really need the age, the language, [and] culturally appropriate communication strategies, ”said Bogoch.

“You also need meaningful community engagement, especially for communities, for example, that are disproportionately affected by the virus. “

Bogoch also noted that history has left a legacy of broken trust between some communities and Canada’s health care systems, citing unethical government experiments in the 1940s on Indigenous children without consent. – depriving malnourished children of adequate food to see what the impacts would be.

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These types of atrocities contribute to lasting mistrust, Bogoch said, which must be addressed. The seriousness of this confidence is underlined in the current context of a pandemic, he added.

“This is extremely important, to build trust between communities and the health system in communities and government, and I’m not going to pretend it can happen overnight – it just won’t happen” , Bogoch said.

“But on the other hand, it’s never too late to start this process. And I really think it’s time to start leveraging pre-existing networks and really talking with community leaders … to really make sure people have access to the best information so they can help take action. informed decisions [on] vaccines. ”

For its part, the government has said that while the communications side is important, there are also some bits of information that need to be covered up. For example, INTERPOL has warned that malicious actors could plot to disrupt the cold chain for vaccine storage around the world. As a result, federal and provincial governments have remained silent when it comes to sharing overly specific details about vaccine dose storage and routes of administration.

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Kobinger said the government should be okay with keeping those kinds of details to themselves in a larger effort for greater transparency.

“I think there is some information that is not that important,” he said.

“We’ve seen it, by the way, of people trying to encode ransomware into a freezer program in order to make money – saying they’re going to turn off the freezer, for example, remotely.”

While this blackmail attempt did not take place in Canada, Kobinger said such threats also pose a real risk at the Canadian border – and warrant opacity in some specific areas regarding vaccine communications. against coronaviruses.


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The government, meanwhile, defended its vaccine transparency efforts on Monday.

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“We hold technical briefings every week where Health Canada officials are present, where procurement officials are present and where PHAC officials are present with the goal of providing the Canadian public with so much information. information they may ask or want to get as much. as much information as possible about vaccines, ”Procurement Minister Anita Anand told reporters on Monday.

“Additionally, I have heard various efforts among cultural groups and diverse communities who speak directly with their communities, especially the South Asian community, to ensure that vaccines are safe and effective once approved by Health Canada.

She added that there is a “whole-of-government approach” to providing Canadians with information that will “make them feel comfortable with approved vaccines, which are safe and effective.”


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The first coronavirus vaccine in Canada has already started rolling out in Canadian communities, and thousands of additional doses of this Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected to arrive regularly. However, the approval dates back to just over a week – a reality that also gives Bogoch hope for an ongoing communication effort.

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“In all fairness, though, it’s been five minutes – give it a few minutes here,” Bogoch said.

“You can be sure that at the federal and provincial level, they put together a ton of real-time documents that can be translated into any language… of course these programs should have started some time ago,” but I think we’ll see them start now. So I understand that people want this, and it is extremely important. It happens. ”

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© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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