At least half of Canadians are concerned about outbreaks of the monkeypox virus in Canada, but this concern doesn’t come close to the distress people felt over COVID-19, according to a new Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News.
Even as monkeypox cases continue to slowly rise in pockets of the country, 67 per cent of the population is confident Canadian officials have the situation well in hand, the poll suggests.
“I think people are concerned about other things right now, like the rising cost of living and the conflict in Europe,” said Ipsos vice president of public affairs Gregory Jack.
“I think part of that is probably driven by the fact the Canadians haven’t necessarily engaged on monkeypox as a major issue. Also, they have seen government perform over the last couple of years (in response to) COVID-19 … They have a pretty good idea of what the government is capable of doing when they’re managing these sorts of things.”
As of Friday, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) reported the number of monkeypox cases in the country had grown to 168. This includes 141 cases in Quebec, 21 cases in Ontario, four in Alberta and two in British Columbia.
The polling showed that 55 per cent of those surveyed overall expressed concern about the spread of monkeypox in Canada and 67 per cent indicated they are confident that health officials will be able to contain the spread of the virus.
Seniors expressed the highest levels of concern and were more likely to be following news about outbreaks, even though many of them may have more protection from the disease than their kids or grandkids, due to the smallpox vaccine. Canadians born in 1972 or later have not been routinely immunized against smallpox.
A total of 61 per cent of respondents aged 55 and over said they were concerned about the spread of monkeypox in Canada, compared to 56 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 and 48 per cent of those aged 35 to 54.
Don Vinh, an infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre, says he believes older Canadians may be more cautious about this virus because they remember a time when they had to be vaccinated against smallpox — a closely related virus that the World Health Organization declared eradicated in 1980.
“Those people are still marked by smallpox,” Vinh said.
“And because of the similarities between monkeypox and smallpox… it may strike closer to home in the sense that (older Canadians) can understand or at least recollect the potential impact that these pox viruses have on populations.”
The COVID-19 virus and the reality that older Canadians have been more susceptible to negative outcomes from it may also be playing a role in the different attitudes among age groups when it comes to monkeypox, said Sameer Elsayed, an infectious disease physician and professor at Western University.
“Adults and elderly individuals have to bear the brunt of COVID more than younger individuals. And so that experience perhaps may have led them to worrying about monkeypox and not understanding who’s at risk now,” Elsayed said.
Older Canadians are also more likely to be concerned about their health generally and about how a virus that is new to Canada could potentially mean worse outcomes for them, he added.
“They’re just looking at – I’m older, I’m more at risk for from dying from an illness or being more severely ill. And that’s what’s causing concern.”
Even though many Canadians may be concerned about monkeypox, a majority in all age groups expressed confidence in Canadian officials to contain the outbreaks, including 72 per cent of those over 55.
Overall, 66 per cent of respondents said they believe Canadian officials are working quickly enough to contain the outbreaks of monkeypox in Canada, the poll suggests.
But not every region had the same level of trust in how governments and health authorities are managing monkeypox.
In Quebec, where the vast majority of cases in Canada have been identified, respondents were significantly more likely to feel officials are moving quickly enough to contain the spread of the virus at 76 per cent.
The province has rapidly rolled out a vaccination program providing the smallpox vaccine Imvamune to those who have contracted the virus and their close or intimate contacts.
The majority of cases have been detected among men who have sex with other men, so the vaccine is now also being offered within that community as a preventive measure, Quebec’s public health agency said this week.
David Hawkins, executive director of Montreal’s West Island LGBTQ2+ Centre, says he hasn’t heard a lot of concern or talk about monkeypox among the queer communities he works with.
In fact, he believes too much of the conversation about this virus has focused on the LGBTQ-plus community, because even though the majority of cases have been among men who have sex with men, it is not a sexually-transmitted disease.
Monkeypox spreads through direct, physical contact, which could include sex, but also any skin-to-skin contact or even by touching bed linens of infected individuals.
“I think the unfortunate reality is, the more that we have to have these conversations (about monkeypox) and the more that they get linked and lumped in with LGBTQ discourses, the harder it is to actually separate those things and say that they’re entirely separate,” Hawkins said.
“It has been blown incredibly out of proportion, and it’s distracting us from some of those really important conversations we need to have, such as how to be safe, what are the steps that we can take?”
Meanwhile, in Alberta, where only a handful of cases have been identified, residents appear to be significantly less convinced health officials can keep the virus under control.
Fifty per cent of Albertan respondents said they disagreed that Canadian officials will be able to contain the spread of monkeypox, compared to 37 per cent of those in Saskatchewan, 35 per cent in Ontario, 27 per cent in British Columbia, 27 per cent in Quebec and 24 per cent in Atlantic Canada.
Some of this may be due to an overall lower level of confidence in governments in general among Western Canadians, Jack said.
“The other thing I would say is that Western Canada is facing a bunch of different issues right now among rising prices and inflation, just like the rest of the country. But those issues might be more pronounced in that area of the country at this time.”
The findings in this poll are based on a survey of 1,001 Canadians aged 18 and over, conducted by Ipsos between June 9 to 13, 2022. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the Canadian population according to census parameters. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.
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