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Opinion: Facts are the only cure for epidemic of vaccine misinformation

It is a stressful time in Alberta with the current COVID-19 pandemic. But there’s a secondary epidemic that needs to be addressed — an epidemic of misinformation that’s rapidly spreading through our social and digital media platforms.

It is a stressful time in Alberta with the current COVID-19 pandemic. But there’s a secondary epidemic that needs to be addressed — an epidemic of misinformation that’s rapidly spreading through our social and digital media platforms.

There has been a tidal wave of misinformation and the people responsible for it are causing confusion, as well as mistrust and uncertainty with public health responses. They are prolonging the pandemic and preventing access to our health system for some very ill patients.

Our hospitals are now under intense capacity pressures from a surge of mostly unvaccinated patients with severe COVID-19 illness. This has required the health system to reduce services in other areas and delay care for many individuals with non-COVID-19-related conditions.

For everyone’s sake, it’s crucial all Albertans have reliable, verifiable and current information about COVID-19 to help inform choices and protect themselves and their loved ones.

So, here are the facts.

COVID-19 vaccines are effective. The evidence is conclusively demonstrated and has been articulated in-depth in multiple large, well-conducted, peer-reviewed scientific studies from around the world. Here in Alberta, we see evidence of vaccine’s effectiveness in our ICUs, where roughly nine out of every 10 people with COVID-19 are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. The risk for COVID-19 infection in fully vaccinated people cannot be eliminated as long as there is continued community transmission of the virus. No vaccine can be 100 per cent effective. However, evidence shows fully vaccinated persons are less likely than unvaccinated persons to acquire COVID-19 infection (including the delta variant), and by preventing infection, vaccines also prevent transmission to others.

COVID-19 vaccines are proven safe. As of Sept. 17, only a tiny fraction of the 54.8 million doses administered to Canadians led to adverse events — fewer than 0.03 per cent. Furthermore, of those reports of adverse events, even fewer were considered serious, representing only 0.008 per cent of all doses administered. A variety of vaccines have been administered for many decades with no indication of long-term side effects and we would not expect the COVID-19 vaccine to be different. To date, we have seen no indication of adverse events more than six weeks after the vaccine was given.

COVID-19 vaccines are not ‘experimental.’ Yes, they were developed rapidly but used science that has been around for decades. Extremely robust data from clinical trials and real-world use in many millions of people show that vaccination is safe, and offers good protection against becoming infected and excellent protection against serious illness or death from COVID-19. There are no reasons to believe that current COVID-19 vaccines should have long-term effects as they cannot alter cell genetic material. They just teach your body to recognize the code of the virus, then disappear.

COVID-19 vaccines provide more robust protection than infection-acquired (or natural) immunity. Let’s be clear that immunity acquired from infection requires becoming infected. This acquired immunity comes with a huge risk as roughly 20,000 Canadians will die from the disease for every 1 million infected. Many others will experience life-changing complications such as prolonged pneumonia, lung damage and blood clots. Previous infection has been found to provide 85 per cent protection against symptomatic reinfection, whereas vaccine effectiveness, even with the highly transmissible delta variant, exceeds 90 per cent.

True, the duration of any protection is not clear at this time. But we do know that vaccination after an infection boosts immunity and offers more protection against the delta variant. There is also evidence that people who had a previous infection are twice as likely to be reinfected with the delta variant compared to those who had a previous infection plus a dose of vaccine.

Acquiring COVID-19 is much more dangerous than getting the vaccines, which have been proven to be safe and effective in billions of people. Immunization against COVID-19 is an essential component to providing the highest standard of care for all physicians and healthcare professionals. We strongly support physicians and healthcare professionals in their continuing efforts to listen to patients, provide them with reliable information, lead by example, and help Albertans find the path to becoming vaccinated and protecting themselves and all Albertans.

Dr. Scott McLeod – registrar, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta; Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti is the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta president; Dr. Verna Yiu – president and chief executive officer, Alberta Health Services; Dr. Francois Belanger is the vice president quality and chief medical officer, Alberta Health Services; Dr. Brenda Hemmelgarn is the dean, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta; Dr. Jon Meddings is the dean, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary and Dr. Vesta Michelle Warren is the president, Alberta Medical Association.