As mentioned in last weekend’s newsletter, I had the honour on Tuesday night of moderating a panel in conjunction with McMaster University that looked at various aspects of vaccine hesitancy. If you missed it, you can watch the event here on YouTube and on Sunday, we'll published an edited excerpt of the discussion.

I spoke for more than hour with four experts who deal with different aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic: Zain Chagla is a medical doctor, educator and researcher whose specialties include infectious diseases; Dawn Bowdish is an immunologist who has become an effective advocate for public education about the pandemic; Manali Mukherjee is an assistant professor in the division of respirology at McMaster's Degroote School of Medicine whose research includes lingering symptoms of long COVID (which has impacted her personally) and Clifton van der Linden, an assistant professor in McMaster's department of political science and founder of Vox Pop Labs, which has been taking the temperature of public opinion regarding COVID throughout the pandemic.

The event happened just at the omicron variant was really hitting home in Canada. Within the last week, governments have started to once again place restrictions on public gatherings, there are long lineups for booster shots and rapid testing kits and people are starting to adjust or cancel their holiday plans. And yet there is still a substantial segment of the population that won’t get vaccinated. That’s the issue we were discussing on Tuesday: trying to understand why some people are reluctant, but also to answer questions from those in the audience who themselves are hesitant. Other people who tuned in were looking for advice to help convince a friend or family members to get the shot.

All four panelists admitted they had people – friends or family – in their own lives who aren’t vaccinated. And even though they research the topic, all admitted it can be a very difficult situation on a personal basis.

“All the good practices that I use with strangers, I have a hard time implementing with my own family,” Dawn Bowdish said. “Because to be honest, the vaccine hesitancy spectrum is huge…. So where I have gone wrong with my own family is doing all the things that you shouldn't do. I talked more than I listened. I threw scientific facts as opposed to listening to people's stories and concerns. And I appealed to the authority. ‘I've got a PhD. I've been working on this for 20 plus years,’ and that was a mistake. And so those are the things I would caution people against when you have your own conversations with your vaccine hesitant family members or friends.”

Zain Chagla provided some more good advice: “We know from things like smoking cessation where the more times that conversation happens in a non-judgmental and non-confrontational matter, it often ends up with the right outcome at the end of the day. So again, it's not a conversation to win ... and get someone to the pharmacy that afternoon. It's a conversation to start another conversation and start another conversation and keep going along those lines.”

Be kind. Listen. Avoid confrontation. Show concern, not anger or frustration. These are all good strategies for life in general – and needed more than ever as we enter another scary stage of this pandemic.

For your weekend reading, I’ve included the latest information about the Omicron variant from across the global network of The Conversation.

Stay safe this weekend. We’ll be back in your Inbox on Monday.

Scott White

CEO | Editor-in-Chief

Weekend Reads: The latest on Omicron

COVID-19 vaccine inequity allowed Omicron to emerge

Dawn ME Bowdish, McMaster University; Chandrima Chakraborty, McMaster University

In places with low vaccination rates, COVID-19 has the chance to linger, and variants develop and travel. Without global vaccine equity, this entirely predictable pattern will repeat itself.

Omicron FAQ: How is it different from other variants? Is it a ‘super-variant?’ Can it evade vaccines? How transmissible is it?

Dasantila Golemi-Kotra, York University, Canada

One of the ways the Omicron variant is different from other variants is the sheer number of mutations in the spike protein. Does this make it a super-variant?

Omicron and COVID boosters: everything you need to know

Paul Hunter, University of East Anglia

A third vaccine dose raises protection against omicron to 75%, early data suggests.

Christmas socialising: three health experts explain how to interpret new advice

Danny Dorling, University of Oxford; Peter Sivey, University of York; Sarah Pitt, University of Brighton

The public has been asked to cut back on socialising ahead of Christmas – but does this request go far enough?

How to use rapid testing to keep you and your family safe during the 2021 holiday season

Kristen Haase, University of British Columbia; Don D. Sin, University of British Columbia

Rapid testing for COVID-19 is an extra safety measure that can help prevent spread of infection, and help you have a more normal holiday, especially if you are visiting vulnerable people.

When is it OK to take a rapid antigen test for COVID rather than lining up for a PCR swab?

Thea van de Mortel, Griffith University

A rapid antigen test is a screening tool – it can indicate that you might be infected, but you need a PCR test to confirm the result.

How effective are vaccines against omicron? An epidemiologist answers 6 questions

Melissa Hawkins, American University

For a number of reasons, as time goes on vaccines become less effective. So how do researchers calculate how well vaccines are working?

COVID: how the disease moves through the air

Lena Ciric, UCL; Abigail Hathway, University of Sheffield; Benjamin Jones, University of Nottingham; Chris Iddon, University of Nottingham

Masks definitely catch some of the virus laden aerosols and droplets - and that will reduce transmission between people and the number of cases of COVID-19.

The Conversation Weekly podcast

How the arts can help us come back together again

Gemma Ware, The Conversation; Daniel Merino, The Conversation

Three stories from Australia and the UK exploring the role of art in helping people deal with the challenges life throws at them. Listen to The Conversation Weekly podcast.