Why some young Canadian adults resist COVID-19 booster jab

Banin Hassan says there is only one reason she would consider getting another shot of a COVID-19 vaccine to boost her first two doses.

“If they make it mandatory and restrict activities or travel from my life again, I would consider it ’cause I love to travel,” says the Hamilton-based consultant, who is 27.

“Other than that, there isn’t anything that would change my mind.”

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Canadian government data shows young adults lag other age groups in getting boosted. About 35 per cent of people between 18 and 29 have received a third dose. That goes up to 42 per cent for 30- to 39-year-olds. On average, 72 per cent of Canadians 40 and older have received theirs.

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A Calgary-based doctor who has studied vaccine hesitancy says he is not surprised young adults are behind.

“Even before the booster, with the second and the first dose, we did see much lower uptake in the 25 (group) compared to the 65-plus community,” says Dr. Jia Hu, who leads a group that advises on how to increase uptake.

Hu is the CEO of 19 to Zero, made up of doctors, nurses, economists and other experts, who aim to help governments, companies and communities across Canada build trust in vaccines.

“One thing that allowed us to get vaccine uptake rates higher in the 30-range was vaccine mandates, because I don’t think there’s hesitancy in this population (about the shots themselves),” Hu says. “In that age group, people are less concerned about COVID causing severe illness. Mandates let them live life again.”

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Hassan’s partner, Humam Yahya, 28, acknowledges the benefits vaccines provide in reducing severe illness, but questions the need to keep getting shots.

“You just get a booster every eight months or 10 months and there’s no end date to it,” he says. “You’re just taking these vaccinations … and I’m sure they have great benefits, but also we don’t know the long-term side-effects.”

He says he was fearful at first about getting COVID-19 because he has asthma.

“I sheltered myself a lot. But then a lot of friends that did get COVID, their side-effects and what they got was nowhere near what I thought it would be, so I lost a lot of fear there.”

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Hassan adds some distant family members died early in the pandemic. More recently she’s observed close family members and friends who had COVID-19, but with mild symptoms.

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“My father has kidney failure and he’s on his fourth dose. I’m fully understanding of him needing to do that because his health is a bit more compromised. I would even encourage him to continue getting it. For me, I don’t find COVID a high risk at this point,” Hassan says.

She and Yahya say some friends, particularly women, had bad reactions to the vaccine, so the couple is wary of too many doses.

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Liza Samadi, 25, a pharmacy assistant from Hamilton, says she hasn’t gone for a booster because it’s not mandatory.

“I was really lazy,” she says with a laugh.

“I just kept delaying, but then I ended up getting COVID (in January) so I was, like, ‘OK, I guess I’m pretty boosted enough for now so there’s no need for me to get it.’”

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Samadi says her whole family has had COVID-19, so they’re not in a rush to get boosted, but would go for a third shot if it became mandatory.

Hu says he “strongly, strongly, strongly” recommends all Canadians get boosted because protection from two doses wanes after about six months “and the booster gets you right back.”

He does say that while booster uptake in young adults is too low, he doesn’t believe 18- to 29-year-olds with COVID-19 will overwhelm hospitals.

But he adds: “Do I think some 25-year-olds still might get hospitalized and die?”

“Yeah, I do.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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