As of Monday morning, 52,179 doses of novel coronavirus vaccine had been administered in Canada.
Another 350,000 or so doses are sitting in freezers, unused.
In many provinces, the vaccination rollout has slowed considerably, or even stopped, for the holidays.
Since Christmas Eve, just more than 3,500 people in this country (almost all of them in Quebec) have received a much-desired, potentially life-saving shot in the arm.
That’s not good enough. In that same time period, there have been about 25,000 new coronavirus infections.
COVID-19 isn’t taking a holiday, and neither should our pandemic vaccination program.
Time and time again, we’ve been told this is a crisis of unprecedented scope and gravity. The country, from coast-to-coast-to-coast, is under varying degrees of lockdown.
The fast track back to some semblance of normalcy is getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.
So, where’s the urgency?
There is no question there are challenges. Staffing is difficult at the best of times, and doubly during the holidays, especially after 10 months of front-line workers working full bore during a pandemic.
But health care is a 365-day-a-year operation. Vaccination clinics should be considered as essential as the hospitals where pandemic patients are being treated and the testing sites where they are being swabbed.
Governments also need to keep publishing data during the holidays. The number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths give us a sense of how we’re managing. Systematic reporting of vaccine data, including doses received and doses administered, is equally important.
As the legendary sociologist William Bruce Cameron said: “Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted.”
When word spread that Ontario was shutting down its vaccine clinics, in whole or in part, between Christmas and New Year’s, health care workers – who will be the first to be vaccinated – were dismayed.
They also, in large numbers, volunteered to help. In other words, the staffing challenges were solvable.
The other priority group, elders in long-term care, could also easily be vaccinated during the holiday period. It’s not like they’re going anywhere. Many are literally locked into their care homes because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The reason given for not going into care homes, at least in Ontario, is that the vaccine is difficult to transport. But Quebec is vaccinating long-term care residents, so it’s obviously possible.
It’s true too that, in the grand scheme of things, there are very few vaccine doses available in Canada. There was political pressure to begin the rollout as early as possible.
The reason for that is that the public desperately needs some hope. Clinics should be operating during the holidays if for no other reason than to send the message that we are pulling out all the stops. That perception is as important as the shots themselves.
Leaving hundreds of thousands of vials in freezers as the pandemic rages on is an insult to both health care workers and elders who desperately need the protection of vaccines. Withholding stock to deliver second doses is a month is also a dubious policy.
More than half a million cases and 15,000 deaths into the Canadian chapter of the pandemic, we can’t afford to relax, or to take a few days off.
If anything, we should be redoubling our efforts. We finally have a little hope, in the form of a vaccine. At the same time, the new variants that are springing up, which appear to spread more readily, mean things could get a lot worse pretty quickly.
If we are ever going to get a handle on this pandemic, we need more than photo-ops of crates of vaccine being unloaded from cargo planes, and the first nurse, first elder or first personal support worker getting the jab.
We need a serious, full-speed rollout, even if the current supplies and circumstances are less than ideal. What we have now is not a limp out.
Aside from sending the wrong message to the public, the snail’s pace bodes poorly for the larger vaccination program.
Ontario, for example, plans to administer one million vaccine doses by March 1 – almost 16,000 a day on average.
You won’t reach that target with Yuletide dithering. And you certainly won’t build public confidence by making excuses.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misattributed a quote to John Kenneth Galbraith when it was said by sociologist William Bruce Cameron.
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