Nazeem Muhajarine, PhD
Co-Lead, CoVaRR-Net Public Health, Health Systems and Social Policy Impacts Pillar
Professor, University of Saskatchewan
Fatima Tokhmafshan, Geneticist and MD candidate
Director, CoVaRR-Net Community and Patient Engagement and Outreach
When should I get my third or fourth dose? Should my child get vaccinated and if so, when? If I’ve had COVID-19 recently, should I get a booster? If I get a fourth dose when I’m eligible, will that reduce my risk of long COVID?
With BA.5 spreading fast in the seventh wave, students heading back to school and university, and a new vaccine for kids under five now available, many Canadians are looking for reliable and up-to-date, science-based information and answers to such questions.
If you have any of these or other vaccine-related questions, a free, non-judgmental service providing one-on-one discussions with immunization counsellors, trained by CoVaRR-Net scientists, can help.
Motivational Interviewing to Increase COVID-19 Vaccine Acceptance (MIICOVAC) is a nation-wide service and pilot research project that aims to explore and address questions, anxieties, and concerns about COVID-19 vaccination. The pilot is offering virtual interviews to about 6,000 people across Canada. Any Canadian adult who is inadequately vaccinated, hesitant to receive a vaccine, or not sure if they want a booster can use the free service, and yes, they can ask questions about vaccinating their children.
“Motivational interviewing is an evidence-based and client-centred approach that focuses on understanding the clients’ motivation for health decisions. It is not about just giving data or facts, but rather about building trust and empowerment so that people can make autonomous and evidence-informed decisions when it comes to vaccination,” says Fatima Tokhmafshan, CoVaRR-Net Director of Community and Patient Engagement and Outreach and a collaborator on the MIICOVAC project.
“Our counsellors are not there to lecture people about the benefits of vaccination. They listen with an open attitude, show compassion and understanding, and address the person’s questions and concerns by presenting the most reliable and up-to-date, science-based information in an easy, accessible way to help Canadians make their own decisions about vaccination,” adds Tokhmafshan.
How do I sign up with MIICOVAC for an interview?
MIICOVAC is a partnership between CoVaRR-Net, Centre de recherche du CHUS (Université de Sherbrooke), the Canadian Vaccination Evidence Resource and Exchange Centre (CANVax), and the Canadian Public Health Association. The pilot project is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, with additional funding for a sub-study from CoVaRR-Net.
Any resident of Canada who is 18 years of age or older may sign up by completing a brief online questionnaire at https://canvax.ca/miicovac. The discussions with an immunization counselor are via Zoom and last between 15 and 40 minutes. Participants also have the option of a follow-up meeting.
Aiming to increase vaccine knowledge, acceptance, and uptake
MIICOVAC builds on the success of the Motivational Maternity Interviewing for Childhood Immunization project, a Quebec-wide initiative developed by Dr. Arnaud Gagneur, a neonatologist and vaccine hesitancy researcher at the Université de Sherbrooke. CoVaRR-Net, with its over 100 diverse researchers, has partnered with Dr. Gagneur, Principal Investigator of MIICOVAC, to ensure residents of Canada have access to the most reliable and up-to-date information about variants, immunity and vaccines and are able to make the best decisions to protect themselves and their communities.
“This project breaks new ground because we want to see if motivational interviewing is effective virtually and for COVID-19 vaccination for any age. If the pilot study proves successful in improving vaccination motivation and increasing vaccine uptake among participants, our goal would be to scale up the service and build capacity by training more healthcare workers in motivational interviewing and offering this to many more Canadians,” says Tokhmafshan.
CoVaRR-Net expanding pilot to include diverse, marginalized groups
CoVaRR-Net scientists are contributing by training counselors and vetting scientific information shared in virtual interviews, synthesizing evidence on the effectiveness of motivational interviewing, and expanding and scaling up the pilot to include underrepresented participants and counsellors.
“We’re conducting a sub-study, most likely in northern Saskatchewan, that would include underrepresented and vulnerable groups such as newcomers to Canada, refugees, Indigenous Peoples, and people living in remote rural communities. Motivational interviews may be offered to some small groups, such as families, as well as individuals. A key goal is to make sure the service is available to those who are hard to reach and ensure the MIICOVAC study’s results are generalizable to the entire Canadian population,” says Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, Co-Lead, CoVaRR-Net Public Health, Health Systems and Social Policy Impacts Pillar and Professor, University of Saskatchewan, as well as a collaborator on the MIICOVAC project. CoVARR-Net will also provide technical support in analyzing data and research results from the main study and sub-study.
Boosting vaccine acceptance and uptake to help curb future waves
In Australia, where less than 40% of eligible people have received four doses, a winter wave of rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations driven by the highly infectious BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, led some public health officials to consider re-introducing measures such as mandatory wearing of masks in public places. In Canada, where BA.5 has driven a seventh wave this summer, there is an opportunity to learn from Australia’s experience by increasing vaccine acceptance and vaccine uptake as the school year begins and thus, avoid a surging fall wave driven by BA.5 or a new variant, and the need to reimpose public health restrictions or lockdowns.
“Every resident of Canada deserves to have their concerns and questions about vaccines answered and to have an accessible, empathetic, up-to-date, and validated source of information, such as MIICOVAC. We believe the motivational interviewing approach, along with vaccine media campaigns and public health announcements, can empower more people to make decisions about vaccination that could help to curb future waves and their serious impacts on health, education, and the economy,” says Tokhmafshan.
Forum for parents to ask and answer questions about vaccinating their kids
Dr. Muhajarine says it is especially important to address the questions and concerns of parents who may be hesitant, or not have access to reliable, science-based information about the health risks for kids who are inadequately vaccinated. “Canadians of all ages gain important health benefits from being adequately vaccinated. Unfortunately, vaccine uptake for kids from five to 11 years old has plateaued at the low rates of about 56% for one dose and 42% for two doses. Vaccines for the youngest kids, from six months to under five years old, have been available since mid-July, and it appears vaccine uptake is going to be even lower for this age group,” he suggests.
“Parents have a lot of substantive questions about the COVID-19 vaccines and immunity that deserve answers. This approach offers a trained counselor to meet parents one-on-one with an open attitude, and who will listen to their concerns with empathy. They can also talk with them about the susceptibility and potential severity of COVID in children, and the role of parents in protecting children’s health. This is necessary now and beneficial. Vaccination is like an insurance policy that protects parents and their kids against the very real risks of immediate or long-term health consequences from COVID-19 infection,” says Dr. Muhajarine.
To arrange an interview with Nazeem Muhajarine or Fatima Tokhmafshan, please contact: