Heidi Lier was so happy to get the COVID-19 jab, she cried with relief.
Lier, 37, as an immuno-compromised woman, is at high risk for health complications should she contract the virus. She has been pretty much confined to her home in the 108 Mile Ranch since last spring with her 10-month old daughter Sevi Taylor. She got the Pfizer vaccine on April 15 and described it as no different than a flu shot, but one that will make her life better.
“At first I found (staying home) so overwhelmingly difficult. Especially once we had our baby girl, that part was very hard. She’s missed out, she knows very few family members and if she does it’s from afar,” Lier said. “Babies are pure joy and she didn’t get to experience the love, the hugs and the tears of happiness and she didn’t get to experience that with anyone. She’s really sacrificed a lot without knowing it and that part has really hurt my heart.”
Lier is among 5,372 people who have received the vaccine – most of them first doses – at the 100 Mile House clinics since the rollout started late last year. Interior Health anticipates everyone over the age of 18 should have the opportunity to receive their first dose by the end of June.
However, there are still many in the South Cariboo who remain hesitant about the shot or have decided not to get it at all.
Dr. Carol Fenton, a medical health officer with Interior Health, said there’s a wide spectrum of vaccine acceptance among the public. Some like her get every vaccine, while there are those who refuse them all. Everyone else falls in between these two groups and has various reasons for being hesitant, from lack of information to convenience, she said.
One of those in the middle is Clinton’s Gina Gambill, who previously worked for the BC Ambulance Services as a 911 call taker. While she said she’s not an anti-vaxxer, having taken other vaccines in the past, Gambill said getting the COVID shot would be akin to “volunteering to be a guinea pig” as she considers the mRNA based vaccines to be very experimental and there are no long-term studies on any long-term effects.
“In the past, I would do my homework before getting a vaccine. In one case, a new vaccine had been released and I decided to wait for the long-term research to be completed,” Gambill said, adding her doctor told her the risks outweighed the benefits in that case.
She is taking the same approach to the COVID-19 vaccine, maintaining that if people become injured or die from taking the vaccine, there are no legal avenues available to gain compensation. The best you can do is report the symptoms to the Canadian Adverse Events Following Immunization Surveillance System, she said, where “you’ll become a statistic.”
“Educate yourself before getting the injection,” Gambill said. “Look carefully at both sides of the debate so you can make an informed decision.”
Fenton acknowledged the vaccination effort has been challenging to plan and implement, especially as information changes on a weekly, or sometimes daily, basis. In December, Interior Health started using the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines and have since added the viral vector vaccines produced by Astra Zeneca and Johnson and Johnson.
Viral vector vaccines, Fenton said, are an older form of vaccine technology, using a dead virus modified to bear the COVID-19 protein spikes. Upon injection into the body, this teaches the immune system to recognize the COVID-19 virus, building an immunity.
mRNA vaccines, or Messenger RNA, are a newer form of vaccines that Fenton finds “super cool.” They harness the DNA found within the nucleus of the cells that make up our bodies. To produce the proteins that our bodies need to survive, the DNA produces ribonucleic acids (RNA), which provide the instructions on how to make them. These vaccines introduce a new RNA code into our cells that will then cause them to produce the COVID-19 spike protein.
“Because it’s not a virus there’s no risk of infection. Your immune system notices the COVID-19 spike protein and builds antibodies to it,” Fenton said.
The main risks with vaccines are allergic reactions, she added, while the risk of blood clots is understood to be one in 100,000 to one in 250,000. Nothing is without risk, she added, but the risk of a blood clot occurring when diagnosed with COVID-19 itself is one in a 1,000 going down to one in 10 if hospitalized.
Fenton said the best way to address concerns with vaccines is to have one-on-one conversations to answer specific concerns and questions. Immunizebc.ca also has great resources to learn more.
Lier said beyond a little soreness to her arm she had no side effects and is feeling great. As a former nurse, she said she has empathy and respect for the healthcare workers who have been on the frontline of the pandemic. If for no other reason, people should get vaccinated to help reduce the pressure on these doctors and nurses, she added.
Growing up in the community, Lier has seen people rally together and tackle problems “as a we-thing, not a me-thing” and encourages anyone experiencing vaccine hesitancy to go beyond information found on social media and talk to local reputable professionals.
“When the vaccine came out, just like everyone else, I was like ‘wow this is really fast.’ Once you start digging into it a little bit and thinking about the history of vaccine and what they already know lading up to a vaccine, I chose to believe in it and get it,” she said. “This is what we have to do for our community, it’s not just about us anymore as an individual person. If we’re going to move forward in our lives we have to stand together.”