Aug 30, 2021

Boosting Vaccine Confidence Through Conversation

Alumni, Faculty & Staff
Dr. Latif Murji
Dr. Latif Murji

Dr. Latif Murji works to boost vaccine confidence, one person at a time.

Through the VaxFacts Clinic, Murji makes one-on-one virtual appointments with people who want their COVID-19 vaccine questions answered.

“It can take a whole conversation — or even multiple conversations — to build trust and understand a person’s concerns and values,” says Murji, a lecturer in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Family and Community Medicine and MD Program alumnus.

“People who express vaccine hesitancy care about their health, and the health of their loved ones and communities. Often, our goals are aligned and it’s a matter of listening with empathy to understand and address the root of their concerns.”

Murji says common questions he and five colleagues working on the program hear involve the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.

They also hear questions about how vaccines might interact with patients’ medical conditions and medications, or about vaccine safety and fertility, pregnancy and breastfeeding.

The VaxFacts Clinic is based at Scarborough Health Network, where Murji is the coordinator of global health, diversity and health equity. The clinic currently has about 100 appointments per month and this number is expected to rise as the clinic grows.

Though Vax Facts is funded provincially, people don’t need to have an OHIP card to consult with Murji and his team. This allows the clinic to help people across the country as well as those who may be refugees or without documentation.

“No matter where people live, we’re all on the same team,” says Murji. “Our goal is to eliminate barriers and connect with people regardless of their location or background.”

Around 86 per cent people who access the clinic subsequently decide to be vaccinated — a rate that’s been consistent over the past several months, says Murji.

In addition to helping people become comfortable and confident in their choice to receive the vaccines, clinic staff also help people book appointments to receive their shots. 

Murji says the longer the clinic operates, the more people want to share stories of their own experiences with it.

A large number of people who book appointments with the clinic do so on the recommendation from a friend or family member. About half are referred to the VaxFacts clinic by primary health providers and public health practitioners.

Others still learn about the clinic though its outreach activities, which are a key pillar of it’s work. Part of the strategy involves connecting with the community through local events.

As an example, the team visited a community BBQ held by the Boys and Girls Club of East Scarborough. The idea, says Murji, is to meet people where they are.

In addition to holding its own town hall-style meetings, VaxFacts also collaborates with businesses to spread awareness.

To make inroads with the fitness and wellness community, Murji teamed up with a supplement shop to host an Instagram Live event that featured casual conversation with the owner and an Ask Me Anything for participants. Most attendees were between the ages of 16 and 29.

Murji also points to a recent visit to a local factory. The owners stopped the production line to allow employees to attend a session with the VaxFacts team.

Health equity has long been a passion for Murji, who is also a locum physician and travels to rural and Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario to practice family and emergency medicine.

He established Stand Up for Health, a non-profit organization that uses experiential learning to spark discussion and action around the social determinants of health when he was medical student and a resident physician.

Born and raised in Scarborough, Murji is proud to see his passions for public health and health equity intersect in his home community.

“In Scarborough, we’ve been doing so much health equity work over the last few years. We’ve established a health equity curriculum for residents and created a certificate program for hospital staff. VaxFacts is an extension of this advocacy and it’s an honour to apply these principles to the community we serve,” he says.