Vaccine Branding Leads to Hesitancy Confusion Towards Mixing Moderna and Pfizer

Despite repeated assurances they are both safe and highly effective – some people hoping to get a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are walking away from clinics offering Moderna.

Public health officials continue to stress that both Pfizer and Moderna are interchangeable and there is “no important difference” between the two, which both use similar mRNA technology.

Those who got AstraZeneca as a first dose have had the option of getting a second dose of the same vaccine or an mRNA vaccine, either Pfizer or Moderna. And now amid shipment delays from Pfizer, many Ontarians who received that shot for their dose first are being encouraged to take Moderna this week.

Justin Bates, the CEO of Ontario Pharmacists Association, tells CityNews there have been thousands of cases where people have cancelled appointments or walked out of a pharmacy when faced with the prospect of receiving a Moderna dose instead of Pfizer.

“It has been a real tangible problem on the ground,” says Bates.

Experts say it all comes down to the impact of vaccine branding.

Peter Loewen, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, tells the Globe and Mail that data taken from weekly surveys show that people are 30 points less likely to take an AstraZeneca dose over Pfizer. People are 10 to 15 points less likely to take Moderna over Pfizer.

A problem that could be a major hurdle as Canada moves toward full vaccination of the population.

“With this week’s delayed Pfizer vaccine shipments, I’m concerned about people delaying dose 2 because they are being offered Moderna vaccine,” Dr. Jeff Kwong, an epidemiologist with the University of Toronto, said on Twitter. “The last thing we want is any loss of momentum in our flourishing vaccine rollout.”

Kwong said analyses of data compiled by the independent research organization ICES show that two doses of Moderna are “just as good” as two of Pfizer in preventing infections.

As a result, he said there’s no reason to think one dose of Pfizer and a second of Moderna would be any worse than two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

“With the Delta variant growing at an exponential rate in Toronto, vaccines are one of our key strategies to slow transmission,” said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health.

“Both Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines are interchangeable, equally effective and safe for everyone over 18 years. If you have an appointment, keep it. If you don’t have an appointment for a first or second dose, make one as soon as you are eligible.”

Toronto officials say they will continue with appointments already booked at city-run clinics over the next few weeks and will increase the administration of Moderna vaccines.

The city says the limited supply of Pfizer doses will be used to vaccinate anyone under the age of 18 as it is the only vaccine approved for use in Canada for anyone in that age bracket.

Peel Public Health also says the Moderna vaccine will be administered in its clinics until at least June 24, saving its supply of Pfizer doses for those between the ages of 12 to 17.

More Ontarians become eligible for an earlier second dose of COVID-19 vaccine this week.

Any Ontarians who received their first dose of an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer of Moderna) on or before May 9 can now book their second shots through the province’s booking system.

The province is also accelerating second shot appointments on Wednesday, June 23, for anyone 18 and older that received a first dose of an mRNA vaccine on or before May 30 living in 10 Delta variant hotspot regions.

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