Here’s a list of the five countries that, as of Wednesday, had vaccinated the highest percentage of their people:
Israel, 58.8 per cent. United Arab Emirates, 34.8 per cent. Britain, 14.9 per cent. Bahrain, 10.2 per cent. United States, 9.8 per cent.
Canada? Canada is at 2.6 per cent – the vast majority of whom have received just one shot – a figure now rising at the pace of a snail running uphill, as promised deliveries from the European Union have evaporated. Canada vaccinated fewer than 12,000 people on Tuesday. For those keeping score at home, that’s 0.03 per cent of the population.
The race between new COVID-19 variants and vaccines is a marathon, but two months after the race began, Canada is still within shouting distance of the starting line. Five-hundred metres down, and just 41.7 kilometres to go.
Right about now, you may be thinking, well, of course the Americans are ahead of us: U.S. pharma giants are producing vaccines. That’s true. It’s also true of Britain, which is manufacturing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
However, Britain didn’t have that domestic capacity a year ago. It began building it up, early in the pandemic, in anticipation of future developments. It planned ahead.
As for Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, they are relying on imported vaccines. It’s hard to say exactly why they were able to procure so much more than Canada, since Ottawa has declined to make almost anything public of its vaccine-import agreements. But it’s a fact that three of the world’s vaccination leaders are dependent on overseas suppliers.
Yes, a shrinking handful of developed countries, notably Norway and the Netherlands, have vaccination rates currently lower than Canada’s (though most of Europe is well ahead, and will pull further ahead if vaccine exports are further restricted). We are not in dead-last place.
That’s not exactly cause for celebration, or reason for complacency.
Ottawa and the provinces should have spent the past year aiming to emulate and outpace the pandemic’s gold-medal nations. Instead, Canadians outside of the Atlantic provinces – which have been going for gold – have in effect been told to look on the bright side: Sure it’s bad but, somewhere else, things are worse. Worse is always possible.
Then again, so is better. Consider our antipodean twin, Australia. It’s the southern hemisphere’s Canada: similar level of development and wealth, similar institutions of federalism, and a population of 26 million. Since the start of the pandemic, Australia has had fewer than 1,000 deaths. Canada recently passed 20,000. Australia is currently averaging just six new cases per day. And no one has died since December.
Early last year, the Australians took aggressive public-health measures of physical distancing and lockdown to bring the virus to heel. They understood that an ounce of prevention is worth pounds of cure.
As part of that, they also brought in border-control measures, including mandatory quarantine facilities for travellers – measures used by other gold-medal countries, from Hong Kong to South Korea, but which Ottawa until recently refused to touch.
Australia is behind Canada in one respect: It has yet to administer a single inoculation. But Australia is no longer in a race between virus variants and vaccines; it stopped the virus in its tracks. When the pandemic is over and the butcher’s bill is delivered, our southern twin’s tally of dead and hospitalized will be a tiny fraction of ours.
And once Australia starts vaccinating next month, it stands ready to outpace Canada on that score, too. Australia, just like Canada, last year signed contracts for a variety of promising, in-development vaccines. But it didn’t stop there. It also ramped up domestic manufacturing capacity and licensed the AstraZeneca vaccine.
By next month, Australian pharma giant CSL will be producing approximately one million AstraZeneca doses a week, in Australia. That’s in addition to the country’s contracts for millions of imported doses. Canada thought it had bought insurance by purchasing from multiple international suppliers; Australia further insured itself by licensing a leading vaccine for domestic production.
With one million locally manufactured doses a week, Australia will soon be vaccinating at least 4 per cent of its population, weekly. Oh, Canada.
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