Communicating with the public is starkly different from offering guidance to health-care professionals. Words such as “preferred vaccine” are, frankly, triggering, and introduce an element of classism into the fracas. Who mostly got the “less preferred” vaccine? Essential workers. Poor people. Racialized people.
Similarly, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine famously only requires one dose, so is ideal for the homeless, the nomadic, or migrant workers — any group for whom scheduling the second dose could be difficult, if not impossible. Clearly, for them J&J would be the preferred vaccine.
Third, preference and choice are luxuries not only for those with access to multiple formulations, but also to those who can afford to wait for their favoured brand. Many communities in Canada cannot wait. Hot-zone neighbourhoods, essential workers, and poor and racialized people who are at great risk of COVID infection cannot afford to wait.
Maybe you prefer Perrier to tap water, but when you’re dying of thirst, you’d best take the first glass of water offered.
Fourth, those Canadians who received the AstraZeneca vaccine should not feel cheated or coerced. Every day spent unvaccinated is a day in which they could have contracted COVID and possibly be fighting for their lives in an ICU ward. This is especially true if they live in a hot zone or are essential workers.
The lesson from all of this, as it has been from the very beginning, is that the pandemic is all about equity. Some groups are more likely to be exposed and infected, to be rendered unemployed, to be hospitalized and die, to lack access to a vaccine, and now to be unable to wait for a “preferred” vaccine, however problematic and incorrect that term might be. Ill-considered messaging does not alleviate the strain of inequity, and might indeed serve to exacerbate it.
There are no second class COVID vaccines in Canada. They all get the job done.
Raywat Deonandan is an Epidemiologist and Associate Professor with the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa.
This content was originally published here.