Canada's vaccination drive hindered despite securing enough shots for population
Canada came out No. 1 in the global race to secure vaccines against Covid-19, pre-ordering enough shots to inoculate its 38 million people three times over. You wouldn’t know it, though, from the pace of vaccinations.
Canada has administered about 684,000 doses, enough to give first shots to about 1.8% of the population, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, though some people have already gotten two. That compares with roughly 7.6% in the UK and 5.2% in the US Israel, leading all nations, has administered enough vaccine to give first shots to nearly a third of its population.
Canada’s campaign hit another roadblock last week, when Pfizer Inc. said it would temporarily reduce deliveries outside the US as it renovates a factory in Belgium to boost capacity. Canada won’t receive any shipment from the pharmaceutical giant next week.
“Pfizer’s global supply issues are not ideal, but that’s why we were so ambitious in the large number of contracts we signed and doses we secured,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters this week. “The total number of doses committed to us is still the same, with every Canadian who wants to get vaccinated able to get vaccinated by September.”
Canada has ordered 40 million doses from Pfizer, amounting to less than 20% of the country’s commitments.
The delay is a blow to Canada, where a resurgence of the virus since October has pushed hospitals near capacity, prompting provinces to add restrictions, including a curfew in Quebec. While Canada is hardly alone in its struggle to roll out the vaccine, the subdued start and the Pfizer hurdle have increased tensions between Trudeau and the provinces, and emboldened his critics.
“Canada is a proud, strong G7 nation,” Erin O’Toole, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, said in written statement Tuesday. “We cannot accept this kind of failure -- not with so much at stake.”
Canada’s vaccination ratio ranks 14th worldwide on the vaccine tracker, behind Ireland and Iceland and ahead of Austria, Romania and Germany. The sluggish start has been a particularly sore point as vaccinations accelerated in the U.S., which ranks fifth, just below the U.K. The contrast between the North American neighbors was highlighted in news reports showing Canadian snowbirds happily getting shots in Florida.
Even though Canada has secured more vaccines per capita than any other nation, “it doesn’t mean much” when the bulk is not yet being delivered, said Jean-Paul Soucy, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto. So far only products produced by Pfizer and Moderna Inc. are authorized for use in Canada, which doubled its Pfizer order from 20 million doses last week.
Federal and provincial officials have attributed the slow pace, in part, to Canada’s expansive geography and the industrial freezer storage required for Pfizer’s vaccine, which made it difficult to cover remote areas in the world’s second-largest country by land mass. The country’s decentralized health care system, which leaves it to each province to organize its own vaccination campaign, has made the rollout uneven.
Manitoba, for example, confused some people by sending the wrong address for a vaccination center, CTV News reported. Some provinces set aside shots for second doses to complete individuals’ inoculations, while others used up all their stock to give first shots to as many people as possible.
Ontario, the country’s largest province, closed vaccination clinics over the December holidays because of low staffing. It was also slow to start inoculating elderly people in long-term care facilities, where thousands died in the spring, Soucy said.
“Certainly, we’re behind peer nations in a lot of what we’re doing,” he said.
Canadian authorities said Pfizer will ramp up shipping and meet a target of 4 million doses by the end of March. But the disruption of deliveries forced provinces to change plans, with Quebec lowering its targets and Alberta halting appointments.
”It’s troubling, it’s a massive concern,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference this week, referring to the Pfizer delay. “My message to the federal government is that nothing else matters right now. Every day we’re giving out less vaccine than we have the capacity to administer is a day we lose.”
Pfizer Says It’s Willing to Sell Covid Vaccine Doses to US States.
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