Over the last few weeks, Dr. Navdeep Grewal and the South Asian COVID Task Force has been doing a bit of “mythbusting” work in regards to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Grewal, a doctor at both Delta Hospital and Mount Saint Joseph Hospital in Vancouver, began working with the task force in the fall of 2020. The task force started in the Peel region of Ontario, and specifically Brampton, which was seeing a higher rate of cases, along with less access and more barriers to testing.
The task force then reached out to Grewal after noticing a surge in cases in Fraser Health. The health region was seeing similar disparities in terms of higher rates of cases compared to the rest of the Lower Mainland and the province.
Fraser Health continues to see some of the highest rates of cases in the province despite bringing down the number of infections, but now other regions are seeing similar surges.
Grewal said she’s heard questions relating to infertility from taking the vaccine to concerns about what’s in it.
“These concerns come up, like ‘Why should I take the vaccine?’, ‘It’s not such a bad thing getting COVID, it’s just like the flu,’ so we combat those myths. We combat the same myths when people call in about what’s in the vaccine, like ‘Are there microchips?’ (and) ‘Does it affect my DNA?’ is also a big one,” she said.
“For example, we’ve put out infographics that say it doesn’t contain any meat products. It’s considered vegan. It’s considered halal in terms of the Muslim community. It doesn’t contain any beef products, so it’s good for the Hindu religion because they can’t eat beef. It’s also been condoned by Jewish councils in terms of being kosher.”
Grewal said she’s been helping out with vaccination clinics at some long-term care facilities, and in doing so, she’s able to ask the health-care workers “what they think the barriers are to them getting the vaccine or other people getting the vaccine.”
“They’re telling us that their families are telling them not to get the vaccine,” she explained. “Then they’re sharing Facebook posts and Instagram posts by anti-vaxxers and other people that are out there just wanting to get attention.”
Pointing to a specific example, Grewal said helped to educate a health-care worker that she spoke to one-on-one during a vaccination clinic.
“(She) had told me that she was not sure if she was going to take the vaccine because her family had told her that it would affect her fertility.”
Grewal said she has a list of contacts on WhatsApp that she uses to send out information from the task force. She said she added the health-care worker to her list.
“Then she WhatsApp messaged me a few days later to tell me that she had decided to go ahead and get the vaccine. It was just another one of those examples where if the people just have the right information, then they can make educated and informed decisions for themselves, rather than relying on all the crazy stuff that’s out there on the internet.”
Grewal said it’s only by vaccinating 70 to 80 per cent – or more – of the population “that we’re going to be able to achieve the herd immunity that’s going to allow us to slowly open up the economy in B.C. and in Canada and the world and get the world back to its pre-pandemic state again.”
Meantime, Grewal said the task force has been working with McMaster University researchers “to better understand the concerns and barriers in South Asian communities across Canada about the COVID vaccine.”
To access the survey, visit surveys.mcmaster.ca/limesurvey/index.php/541736.
The survey is only in English and Punjabi, Grewal said, as the task force has identified the largest group of South Asians in the Peel/Brampton and Fraser Health regions are Punjabi-speaking. But she added there are plans to have it translated into other South Asian languages in the near future “to get full representation from the South Asian community.”