The province posted a tender on the SaskTenders website late last week, looking to hire filmmakers for a series of commercials to “raise public awareness about the importance of getting vaccinated.”
A University of Saskatchewan (USask) epidemiologist said that won’t be easy.
“There’s quite a bit of work to do in order to inform and maybe educate and raise awareness of the safety of [these] vaccine[s],” Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine said.
Muhajarine works with the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit (SPHERU), a joint project between USask and the University of Regina. For the past nine months, researchers have been tracking Saskatchewan residents’ attitudes towards vaccines for the novel coronavirus.
Last May, 87 per cent said they were ready for the jab. But that number decreased to 61 per cent in September before rising again to 80 per cent in January.
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Speaking to Global News over Zoom, Muhajarine attributed the fall and rise to pandemic fatigue and then a burgeoning sense of optimism because governments had approved several vaccines for use and had started inoculating people.
Still, he said, the number needs to stay high so that Saskatchewan can achieve herd immunity.
“It’s not enough for 20 per cent of people, 30, 40 per cent of people to get vaccinated, we need to have 70 to 85 per cent of people — a clear majority of people — get vaccinated.”
Even after months of sickness and a rising death toll, about eight per cent of respondents said they won’t get the shots.
Muhajarine said the province can still reach herd immunity without them but said the province should still try to convince them to get vaccinated.
“If they were to get the virus and get COVID, their health will be threatened, their life could be in danger and we don’t want anybody to lose their lives,” Muhajarine said.
In terms of what the ads should look like, he recommended the government steer away from something like Mr. COVID – a sweater-wearing personification of the coronavirus created by the Alberta government.
In one ad, Mr. COVID shows up at a family’s front door and then celebrates Christmas with them.
“That seems a little bit scary, a little bit too close to home,” Muhajarine said, telling Global News people are already extremely familiar with the image of the coronavirus. Having the specter visit is too ominous of a message.
A better strategy, he said, is to make the ads fun, simple and to have them show how safe the vaccines are, and to show celebrities and popular media figures receiving their doses.
He also suggested tailoring the ads to different demographics and populations – driving home the point that infected young people, for example, can harm their grandparents.
Muhajarine advises of different ads that are directed at urban and rural populations. Those who were less likely to get the shot typically lived in less populated areas, he said.
Finally, he said the commercials should stress the responsibility everyone has to keep on another safe.
“This might be a civic duty that we have to do for ourselves and for everyone in our society.”
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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
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