Vaccination is our ticket out of the pandemic. It’s the way to protect ourselves against a variant-powered fourth wave. Public-health experts have been saying it for months, and you will hear it, again and again and then some more, over the summer. It’s as true as truisms get.
So why aren’t Canadian governments treating the big number of unvaccinated Canadians – nearly a quarter of the eligible population has yet to receive a first shot – as a matter of the utmost urgency?
Canada is racing ahead when it comes to delivering second doses, and that’s something to celebrate. Nearly half of Canadians 12 years of age and older have been inoculated with two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that’s leaping ahead by more than one percentage point a day.
At this rate, around three-quarters of eligible Canadians will be fully inoculated by the time July ends.
But that accomplishment, great as it is, is incomplete. The goal has to be pushing the share of Canadians who are fully inoculated higher – ideally, to at least 90 per cent.
But that second-shot target can’t be hit unless and until the share of people with first shots rises. And Canada’s first-shot vaccination campaign is stalling out.
Right now, 78 per cent of eligible Canadians have had a first shot. News reports often excitedly refer to that as “almost 80 per cent.” It’s a highly misleading characterization.
Canada’s first-shot vaccination rate has, of late, been rising at the breakneck pace of roughly one measly percentage point a week, and slowing. At this rate, Canada won’t get to 80 per cent first-shot coverage until late July or early August. And 90 per cent first shots? Maybe in the fall. Maybe winter. Maybe never.
Politicians want to talk about the second-shot campaign, because talking up success tends to make you more popular than reminding voters about problems. But all of this focus on where the vaccine campaign is doing well is detracting from addressing where it’s falling down.
A few provinces have, to their credit, upped their first-shot vaccination rates. In the two weeks ended July 8, our calculations based on CTV data show that Manitoba increased its rate by four percentage points. Manitoba’s previously low first-shot uptake is now at 77.5 per cent of eligible population – just shy of the national average and well ahead of the other Prairie provinces.
But the rest of the country has hit a plateau. Some provinces’ first-shot rates now stand at a little above 80 per cent, some are a little below, while Alberta and Saskatchewan are far below. Most provinces’ first-shot rates are rising by about one percentage point a week – even as second-shot rates bound ahead at 10 times that pace.
There are many steps that could be taken to boost first-shot uptake, since evidence from polling and outreach efforts strongly suggests that most unvaccinated Canadians are in fact open to getting jabbed.
Giving more vaccines to family doctors would help. More mobile clinics will help. More community clinics will help. More workplace clinics will help.
And why not copy the house-to-house, mass-mobilization effort that Canada has been doing for more than a century, with great success? We’re talking about the census.
This spring, Statistics Canada sent a census invitation to 16 million addresses – every home in Canada. So far, 93 per cent of Canadian households have completed their census, according to Statscan. The agency’s target is 98-per-cent completion; for the 2016 census, it achieved a completion rate of 98.4 per cent.
Not only did Statscan send an invitation to every home, it also followed up – repeatedly – with anyone who did not fill out their census. To do that, it hired 32,000 temporary census enumerators. Any address that doesn’t return a census gets mail reminders, phone calls and, if necessary, a knock on the door. So far this year, enumerators have visited or phoned more than four million dwellings.
Thanks to our public-health system, each provincial and territorial government has the name and address of every resident who has been vaccinated, and every resident who is unvaccinated. They can send that second group reminder letters. They can phone them. They can go to their door and offer them a shot on the spot, or at a clinic down the street.
That’s what we do when something matters. We make sure it gets done.
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