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With dozens of research teams around the world working on finding a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, will Canadians be willing to accept a new vaccine once it becomes available?

According to a University of Guelph expert on vaccine acceptance, it will depend on how much Canadians continue to trust government leaders and decision makers.

Prof. Maya Goldenberg, Department of Philosophy, specializes in the philosophy of science and medicine. Her research in recent years has focused on why some people refuse vaccines or become wary of science.

While many assume that people who choose against vaccination misunderstand science or disregard experts, she sees vaccine hesitancy as a symptom of poor public trust in scientific institutions and governance.

Whether that hesitancy will be seen in this pandemic will depend on how long Canadians continue to trust the decisions of their political leaders, Goldenberg said.

Prof. Maya Goldenberg

“The public will accept vaccines to the extent that they think the governing bodies in charge of public health and safety are doing their jobs well and are adequately working to protect the best interests and well-being of the public,” she said.

The key to countering public mistrust and anxiety, Goldenberg said, is to maintain good public relations among scientific bodies, government and the public.

“At the moment, Canada is enjoying very high trust in government response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said, adding that trust level will need to continue.

She said now is the time for government to begin educating the public on how vaccines are developed, tested and approved, so that they feel assured of the safety of the vaccine when it arrives.

“The prospect of a COVID-19 vaccine becoming available to Canadians should be part of the government communications right now, so that the public can begin considering it,” she said.

Goldenberg offers more perspective in the video below. [Full transcript]

She is available for interviews.


Prof. Maya Goldenberg