As the United States moves to vaccinate around one million people per day against the novel coronavirus, Canada appears to be falling short.
As of Sunday, Canada had administered 816,557 vaccine doses. In comparison, the U.S. had administered 20,537,990, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On a per capita basis, the U.S. has so far inoculated 5.2 per cent of its population, while Canada stands at 1.1.
In total, 1,119,225 doses of the vaccine have been delivered to the provinces and territories as of Jan. 21. However, only 72.9 per cent of those doses have been administered.
This is much more than the States, where the U.S. government has administered 49.6 per cent of the 41,411,550 million doses delivered throughout the country.
While Canada’s neighbours to the South were off to a sluggish start, the CDC told the Associated Press that U.S. was steadily ramping up vaccinations, with health officials administering 1.6 million vaccine doses on Friday.
Last Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, U.S. President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser for COVID-19, called the president’s goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days an “absolutely a doable thing.”
Canada has secured access to more vaccines than any other country in the world — enough to inoculate its entire population three times over — thanks to agreements with Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Medicago, Sanofi-GlaxoSmithKline, Novavax and Johnson & Johnson.
Did Canada make a wrong turn?
Not necessarily, experts say.
Delivery shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines have been delayed while the pharmaceutical giant expands its European manufacturing facility, which could temporarily slow the rate at which doses are administered. The delays, announced Jan. 15, will see Canada’s vaccine deliveries chopped in half for another three weeks.
But Colin Furness, an epidemiologist teaching at the University of Toronto, told Global News that administering doses faster doesn’t always equal a slower mortality rate.
“My sense is that speed is being prioritized over equity in the U.S. — fast at the expense of fair,” Furness speculated.
“The more equity you embed in the distribution process, the longer it will take — you have to organize your priority list and then seek out those who qualify.”
Many of those at highest risk of infection from COVID-19 have clustered in long-term care homes, he said, but frontline health-care workers, caregivers and essential workers are also high on the list.
“By contrast, if you prioritize those who own a car and can pay, you can generally make the process much faster,” Furness said.
Canada’s capacity for vaccination isn’t the problem — just last year, the federal government said they were able to inoculate almost 42 per cent of Canadians for the flu in a single season.
However, storage requirements for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine present an issue.
Ryan Imgrund, a biostatistician who works with Ottawa Public Health, previously said the slow vaccine rollout could be attributed to Pfizer’s additional storage needs, which require deep freezing at ultra-low temperatures of -70C.
Imgrund called the slow rollout “embarrassing.”
We just haven’t had great planning on this,” he said.
“I know health care professionals that volunteered weeks and even more than a month [ahead] to go to help with the vaccine rollout. And they haven’t even been contacted.”
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