Tłı̨chǫ doctor dispelling vaccine hesitancy

Originally posted on CBC North.

Dr. James Van Camp is from Fort Smith, N.W.T., works in Whitehorse as family physician.

A family doctor from the North is speaking out about the efficacy and safety of the COVID-19 vaccine, saying many of his patients are hesitant to get the Moderna inoculation.

Dr. James Van Camp, who was born and raised in Fort Smith, N.W.T., and now practices in Whitehorse, says he has a unique perspective as a Tłı̨chǫ Dene doctor. He encounters many patients who are on the fence about getting the vaccine.

Van Camp says about half of his patients are somewhat hesitant, while about one quarter say "'absolutely no way — not for me.'"

"I think it's up to us doctors to try to address that through educating them, you know, based off of what we've read in our own research," Van Camp said.

"It's been tough because this is a virus that's, in some ways, been a moving target. Sometimes the recommendations for treatments are one way — or prevention is one way — and then, you know, the next week it's different."

Van Camp says the vaccine is "very safe," yet the concern he hears most often is that "Big Pharma" pushed out the vaccine too quickly, without the proper steps.

He said the speed at which the vaccine was developed has been "unprecedented" due to the urgent need in the pandemic, but assures people that it went through proper procedures and studies. He points to a large number of volunteers for the studies, as well as the large amount of funding that went to developing the vaccine, and the low rate of negative or serious reactions to it. 

"I think if there's been a positive out of the pandemic, you know, it's been that this has been an ideal time for vaccine creation," Van Camp said.

This has been an ideal time for vaccine creation.- Dr. James Van Camp

The misinformation floating around online and in social media is definitely a concern, because COVID-19 and the vaccine are under the microscope, he said. Van Camp said social media sites that spread that information could set back the treatment and prevention of the disease.

"We're living in an age of misinformation — like it's been easier to access pseudoscience that passes itself off as, you know, concerning advice or that gives information that's contradictory to evidence, and partly because people will read that."

Van Camp said his mother Rosa taught him about the importance of respecting elders — something he remembers at a time like this.

"This is the time where we can really show our respect to our elders and to protect the vulnerable," he said.

As a frontline worker, Van Camp received his vaccine a couple weeks ago, and said it impacted his sleep and caused him some arm pain. He said he's finding the time to bring up the importance of the vaccine with his patients.

"In this profession, we're often starved for time," he said. "But sometimes you've got to do that, you know, to get the word out about these things."

He urges northerners to stay motivated to learn more about the vaccine and help eradicate COVID-19.

With files from Lawrence Nayally

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