On Tuesday, a Prime Minister in full election mode delivered his campaign Message of the Day: This country has now received enough doses of vaccine to double-dose everyone 12 years of age and older.
If we want to ensure that today’s reopenings don’t give way to another round of hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, then Canada should be moving heaven and earth to boost vaccine uptake, in a big way, now.
Eighty per cent of eligible Canadians have had at least a first shot, and 64 per cent have had both shots. That’s among the best in the world, but it still leaves a lot of Canadians unprotected. Let’s tally them up.
Vaccines are not yet approved for children under the age of 12: That’s about five million Canadians. Another five million Canadians are old enough, but have so far received only one shot. More than six million others have had zero shots.
So out of 38 million Canadians, roughly 16 million are less than fully immunized.
If current trends hold, nearly all of those with one shot will get their second before the end of summer. But also if current trends hold, by the end of summer the number of age-eligible Canadians with not even one shot will still number around six million.
Unless we do more to up first-shot vaccination rates, Canada is likely to have about 11 million people with zero vaccine protection when fall arrives. That’s more than a quarter of us.
The good news is that Canadians who are most vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19, namely the oldest, are the most highly vaccinated. For example, 92 per cent of Quebeckers over the age of 60 have had at least one shot, and 84 per cent have had two. The percentages are even higher in Ontario. In Alberta, more than 90 per cent of residents over the age of 65 have at least a first shot.
All else equal, this high level of protection among seniors is likely to greatly reduce severe illness and death from the next wave of COVID-19.
However, all else is not equal. Canada beat back the first two waves of COVID-19 with public-health restrictions; there were no vaccines. Even the third wave, this past spring, was largely defeated by business closures, indoor capacity limits, distancing and masking. Yet most of Canada has already done away with nearly all of that, or is on the verge of doing so.
Through vaccination, Canada is subtracting from the pool of people at risk. But the lowering of public-health measures, combined with the arrival of the more infectious Delta variant, means that Canada is also multiplying the odds of infection and severe illness for the remainder.
Canada is still in a race between vaccines and variants.
This is our Olympic marathon – and we’re miles from the finish line. Many provinces are acting like we’ve already crossed it.
The United States shows the danger of that approach, with major outbreaks – almost entirely among the unvaccinated – in several states with no public-health rules, no masks and lots of people who haven’t been jabbed.
Florida now has more than 8,000 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 – on a per-capita basis, that’s more than twice as many as Ontario had at the vertiginous peak of its third wave.
The U.S. does appear to be suffering fewer hospitalizations and deaths per infection, thanks to the large number of people who are vaccinated, notably among its oldest citizens. But it’s still suffering far too many hospitalizations, nearly all of which were preventable. The vast majority of those in hospital are unvaccinated.
Canada has the opportunity to get ahead of the curve. But time is running out.
For example, if you or your child is returning to school, college or university this fall, and you want to show up fully vaccinated, and the first day of classes is Sept. 7, then the usual four-week gap between doses, plus two more weeks to gain immunity, means you should have received your first shot by July 27.
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