MONTREAL — Montreal is turning to video games to help recruit teens in its battle against COVID-19.
The city’s public health agency has joined forces with the local gaming industry to target unvaccinated youth, offering cash and prizes to those who get the jab.
“That’s what we are trying to create: a buzz in this community,” Dr. Paul Le Guerrier of Montreal Public Health told CTV Montreal.
A contest was launched encouraging anyone aged 12 to 25 and vaccinated between May 25 and Oct. 1 to post a photo on social media with the hashtag “#gamervacciné_e” to be eligible for prizes totalling $25,000. There’s also a vaccination blitz aimed at gamers scheduled for Sept. 11 and 12 at the Palais des Congrès where young people can win prizes and meet local industry professionals.
The incentives are designed to break down the wall of hesitancy and apathy among youth by relating to them on a more personal level.
“It’s meeting people where they are now, and convincing them in a way that makes sense to them,” Mia Consalvo, the Canada research chair in games studies at Concordia University, told CTV Montreal.
Vaccination rates among the city’s teens are lagging behind the rest of the country. Only 57 per cent of those aged 12 to 17 in Montreal are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 67 per cent of children in the same age group across Canada have received two doses.
“Perhaps they don’t feel as concerned,” Le Guerrier said. “There was a lot of messages in the media that they were less infected, that they were less at risk.”
Evidence has shown that young people who contract the virus are staying in hospitals longer, and doctors say they can experience worse symptoms than adults due to their immune systems going into overdrive.
“In the unvaccinated population, this can still be significant and cause significant illness,” Dr. Earl Rubin, director of Montreal Children’s Hospital infectious diseases division, told CTV National News.
With Delta variant infections rapidly multiplying, some doctors are saying at least 85 per cent of the population will need to be vaccinated in order to achieve so-called herd immunity — a figure especially important to parents of children about to return to in-class learning.
“If we want school to stay in session and if we don’t want outbreaks in schools and schools to be closed down, we really need to achieve that number,” Rubin said.
For Quebec’ part, provincial health minister Christian Dubé has announced vaccines will soon be available at schools.
“We know that September will be extremely difficult,” he told reporters.