Omicron Unease: Worry over contracting COVID-19 rises on news of new variant; hopes for ‘normal’ holidays in question

by David Korzinski | December 5, 2021 7:00 pm

Rebound in plans for festivities linked to spending time with only those who are vaccinated

December 6, 2021 – Like the ghost of Christmas past, the stress of another holiday season during the COVID-19 pandemic is presenting itself in many Canadian homes against the backdrop of questions about the Omicron variant, its spread, and the efficacy of previously administered vaccines on this strain of the virus.

The latest data from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds Canadian concern over contracting the virus rebounding after a decrease in November. Three-in-five Canadians now say they are concerned about becoming sick and three-quarters (73%) say they are worried their friends or family will be infected by COVID-19.

As people around the world wait to better understand the way Omicron behaves, a majority of Canadian parents say they are ready to get their young children vaccinated. Half (54%) of those with children five to 11 years old say they will be inoculating their child as soon as possible, while another one-in-seven (16%) say they will wait but will ultimately do so.

That said, the early days of this age group’s vaccine rollout have done little to sway parents on the fence about having their child vaccinated. These data are largely unchanged since the Angus Reid Institute first canvassed parents in October.

Uncertainty over Omicron notwithstanding, the still-dominant Delta variant appears to be having a significant impact on how families handle family dinners and friendly festivities as the holidays begin in earnest. With 76 per cent[1] of the population fully vaccinated, the number of people planning to attend workplace parties, visit friends locally, and have holiday dinners is rebounding closer to pre-pandemic levels. That said, a firm majority (61%) say they will only be spending time with those who are vaccinated.

More Key Findings:


About ARI

The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.



Part One: A new variant, an increase in concern

Part Two: Parents’ willingness to vaccinate younger children remains static

Part Three: After last year’s pause, many Canadians resuming holiday festivities

Part Four: Most are only visiting with the vaccinated this year


Part One: A new variant, an increase in concern

Global health experts are on high alert after a new strain of COVID-19, known as Omicron, was identified as a variant of concern[2] by the World Health Association (WHO) on Nov. 26. Multiple cases have since been confirmed across Canada[3].

The Omicron variant has many mutations, according to the WHO[4]. Scientists have expressed[5] concerns that, due to these mutations, the variant may be able to evade antibodies generated from vaccinations and previous infections.

News of the variant has elevated Canadian concern over contracting COVID-19. Three-in-five (58%) Canadians are “very” or “moderately” concerned that they will be infected by the virus, the highest number since May this year when half of Canadians had received their first dose of vaccine[6] and few were fully vaccinated:

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, those over the age of 54 are most worried. Two-thirds of Canadians aged 55 and older say they are “very” or “moderately” concerned they will contract COVID-19:

Three-quarters (73%) of Canadians say they are concerned that friends or family will be infected by COVID-19, including three-in-ten (32%) who are very concerned (see detailed tables[7]). Both of those numbers have increased in the last month[8].

Part Two: Parents’ willingness to vaccinate younger children remains static

Health Canada authorized the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children between the ages of five and 11 on Nov. 19.[9] And while jabs are going into the arms of little ones, parents are no more willing to vaccinate their five- to 11-year-olds as they were one month ago. Half (54%) say they will get their eligible children vaccinated as soon as possible, 16 per cent say they will do it eventually, and one-in-five (23%) say they will not get their child inoculated against COVID-19:

Majority of parents of young children say mandatory vaccination at school a bridge too far

Before kids under 12 were eligible, the head of the Toronto District School Board[10] called for the COVID-19 vaccine to be added to the list of required shots to attend school in Ontario, which already includes inoculations against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, and measles. In October, California made it mandatory[11] for K-12 students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 when they become eligible.

A majority (55%) of Canadian parents with young children believe such measures go too far. Two-in-five (38%) disagree and believe the COVID-19 vaccine should be required for children to attend school:

It is worth noting that vaccinated parents – nearly 90 per cent of the respondent base – are evenly divided on the question (see detailed tables[12]).

Part Three: After last year’s pause, many Canadians resuming holiday festivities

Compared to this time one year ago, vaccines have put Canadians in a better place regarding COVID-19. Total cases are significantly lower[13] than they were heading into the holidays in 2020; three-quarters of the population is fully vaccinated against the still-dominant Delta variant.

As a result, Canadians face fewer restrictions than last year in terms of holiday celebrations. Last year many gathered despite restrictions[14], but fewer Canadians said they would be participating in various holiday activities than in pre-pandemic times.

This year, many more say they will be having family dinners (80%), visiting friends and family locally (69%) and in other communities (28%), and attending workplace parties (24%) than last year. Still, Canadians aren’t doing as many holiday activities as they were before COVID-19 spread[15] throughout the world:

*Respondents were asked in 2020 how often they did these activities before the pandemic

Religion is an important part of the holidays for some, and 15 per cent of Canadians say they plan to attend a place of worship. Participating in that activity ranges from a high of one-in-five Manitobans (23%) to a low of one-in-ten Quebecers (9%):

Older Canadians have fewer events on their holiday calendar

Holiday plans vary by age, with older Canadians saying they are planning fewer activities than their younger counterparts. Canadians aged 55 and older are less likely to be attending a family dinner and visiting friends and family locally (see detailed tables[16]). As detailed above, they are also the age group with the highest concerns about being infected by COVID-19.

Part Four: Most are only visiting with the vaccinated this year

While the holidays are often a time to come together with family and friends to celebrate, Canadians will have to navigate the complexities of hosting social events against the backdrop of the pandemic. Questions of where to celebrate – and with who – may take on new meaning as concerns mount about the Omicron variant’s[17] transmissibility and potential to cause breakthrough infections.

When asked about their festive plans, three-in-five (61%) Canadians say their scheduled holiday events will only be attended by those who are completely vaccinated. Another one-in-five (19%) say that they will be at events where most people will be vaccinated while another 11 per cent say they won’t be asking.

At two-thirds, those in the Atlantic provinces are most likely to say that they will attending events only with fully vaccinated friends and family. In contrast, and perhaps reflective of the lower vaccination rates[18] in these provinces, only half of those in Alberta (50%) and Saskatchewan (52%) say their holiday plans will be exclusively with the fully vaccinated. These provinces also have the highest rates of those responding that they are either not sure or wouldn’t be asking about vaccination status at 18 and 15 per cent respectively:

Older Canadians most stringent about vaccinated guests

Against the backdrop of debates about whether booster shots should be accelerated in Canada due to Omicron[19], Canadians over the age of 55 are the least likely to be taking any chances and are the most likely to say that those at their holiday events will be fully vaccinated. This is true of three-quarters (76%) of women and two-thirds (67%) of men over the age of 55.

While younger Canadians are less cautious in their approach than those over 55, female respondents are on average more likely to say they would be attending events with only the fully vaccinated than men of the same age:

Unvaccinated less likely to be attending holiday events than the vaccinated

Many of the unvaccinated are still planning on attending holiday activities, but perhaps because others are being cautious and not inviting them, fewer unvaccinated Canadians say they will be attending family dinners (68%), visiting friends and family locally (64%) and attending workplace parties (14%) when compared with the vaccinated. In fact, 14 per cent of the unvaccinated say they will be doing none of the holiday activities listed, triple the number of the vaccinated (4%) who say the same:

Survey Methodology:

The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from Nov. 26-29, 2021, among a representative randomized sample of 2,005 Canadian adults who are members of Angus[20] Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.

Additional data were collected Nov. 29 – Dec. 1, 2021 among a sample of 1,511, with a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points.

The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI.

For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here[21].

For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics on questions of COVID concern, click here[22].

For detailed results by vaccination status, click here[23].

To read the full report, including detailed tables and methodology, click here[24]. 

To read the questionnaires, click here[25] and here[26].

Image – Rod Long/Unsplash


Shachi Kurl, President: 604.908.1693[27] @shachikurl

Dave Korzinski, Research Director: 250.899.0821[28]

  1. 76 per cent:
  2. a variant of concern:
  3. across Canada:
  4. according to the WHO:
  5. Scientists have expressed:
  6. first dose of vaccine:
  7. see detailed tables:
  8. in the last month:
  9. on Nov. 19.:
  10. head of the Toronto District School Board:
  11. California made it mandatory:
  12. see detailed tables:
  13. significantly lower:
  14. many gathered despite restrictions:
  15. before COVID-19 spread:
  16. see detailed tables:
  17. Omicron variant’s:
  18. lower vaccination rates:
  19. accelerated in Canada due to Omicron:
  20. Angus:
  21. click here:
  22. click here:
  23. click here:
  24. click here:
  25. here:
  26. here:

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