A shot at normalcy

anne mclaughlin
UVic alumna Anne McLaughlin was one of the many who were immunized at the clinic on UVic campus. Photo JBird McLaughlin

Vaccines are on everyone’s minds, if not in everyone’s arms quite yet. UVic’s McKinnon Gym served as one of the Island Health COVID-19 vaccination clinics. Many UVic alumni were able to return to campus to receive their vaccine, including Anne McLaughlin, 90, who attended Victoria College and later taught at UVic for 28 years.

“I was very pleased at the organization at the Ken and Kathy Shields Gym,” says McLaughlin. “It was just extremely well done.” She says what she is most looking forward to post-vaccination is hugging her son, who was not in her bubble.

But immunization can be a complicated subject. Dr. Frederick Grouzet, UVic associate professor of psychology, researches people's perception of risk, their reaction to public health messaging and their motivation to adopt new behaviours. We asked him a few questions about the psychological impact of COVID and our collective attitudes to vaccinations.

Vaccines are not a reality for many of us yet—but we see them on the horizon. How does that change our mental outlook?

The simple existence of vaccines, being a reality or on the horizon, is a very good news. It generates hope because it offers us a sense of control that was seriously lacking at the beginning of the pandemic. The lack of control on a situation has affected everyone. The vaccines help us to regain control on the situation and hope for the future. Hope is maybe the most important emotion for people’s mental health.

What is the best messaging to reach vaccine-hesitant people and encourage them to join the campaign currently underway?

First of all, it is important to acknowledge that it is an important decision and it is thus normal to be hesitant. There is information on Internet, in the media and around us in general that could make people hesitant regarding the potential short-term risks (e.g., secondary effect) and long-term risks of a vaccine.

However, there is also other information showing the great benefits of vaccination, not only the person getting vaccinated but also for others, family members, friends and the entire community. In addition, the potential risks are very minimal and much lower than the benefits. This is the best messaging: acknowledge the hesitation and explain why it is important and what the benefits are.

What do you think will be the long-term psychological effects of this experience on Canadians, if any?

Since the beginning of this pandemic, we knew that there will be long-term psychological effects associated to the pandemic itself and the associated restrictions. They will be numerous and they will vary across age groups and individuals. Many will be negative, but there will also be positive psychological effects.

The nature of these long-term psychological effects will be dependent on how people have experienced the different stages of the pandemic, the kind of (social) support they received, but also how they made sense of it. Finding meaning when facing threat and challenges in life is important to show resilience and even grow as an individual and a society. Despite all the negative long-term psychological effects of this experience, it is important to keep in mind that people can grow and become better through this experience. Some preliminary data shows these positive changes.

Is there data yet on how people’s moods have changed over the stages of the pandemic? Anecdotally, many speak of hitting “a wall” in their tolerance of pandemic restrictions—yet we keep going.

The pandemic situation has led to many research projects and important data has been collected. It is too early to summarize them, but it is clear that people’s moods have changed over the stages of the pandemic and will continue to evolve as we engage into new phases. However, it is important to keep in mind that there are many individual differences; not everyone has experienced these different stages in the same way, which will be important to examine in order to better understand how we cope with a global situation like a pandemic and how to get prepared for other similar situations.

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A sign on campus points the way to the Island Health COVID-19 immunization clinic at McKinnon Gym. Photo Michael Kissinger, BEd '94

In your view, how will our collective experiences with COVID 19 change our societal views on vaccination? Has it changed our approach to the notion of collective good, do you think?

There have always been debates on vaccination. However, it seems that there is a greater consensus on the importance of getting vaccinated for the COVID-19. This change of societal views might be due to the specific threat associated with COVID-19, which is global and very salient, but also associated with important restrictions. Therefore, the desire to return to a more normal life with social interactions adds to the usual benefits of getting vaccinated, making these benefits much higher than the potential risks.

If it has changed our approach to the notion of collective good, it is mainly because COVID-19 has affected our social relationships and many aspects of our life in society. The message has also been very clear that all restrictions exist to protect everyone and this notion of collective good was thus very salient. This notion of collective good will thus be relevant in this vaccination stage.

What are your thoughts or concerns about this next transition in COVID as we return to more normal social interactions? Who will have most trouble with this adjustment?

Like any transition, there is a need for adjustments. Returning to more social interactions when we have been encouraged to maintain physical distance for more than a year will generate two forms of reactions: enthusiasm and fear. Many of us will be happy to reconnect with others and will enjoy in person interaction without physical distance and potentially without masks.

Others will, however, experience some discomfort while interacting with others without physical distance and even more without masks. The association of health risk to social interaction and the sensation of safety associated with wearing a mask may take some time to disappear. It will take even more time for people who have internalized this association because of fear rather than a rational preventive approach.

— Jenny Manzer, BA ’97.