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A woman and dog walk by a sign at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Missouri, home to St. Louis, Kansas City and a lot of farmland in between, calls itself “The Show-Me State.” The expression “I’m from Missouri” is shorthand for, “I’m skeptical – show me the evidence.”

So what happens when the Delta variant of COVID-19 encounters a population that is largely unvaccinated? Let Missouri show you.

Between June 1 and July 1, the number of new daily COVID-19 cases in the state more than doubled, and hospitalizations increased by 42 per cent, according to data compiled by The New York Times. At the start of this month, 956 people were hospitalized with COVID-19. That’s more than are currently hospitalized in all of Canada – even though Missouri has a smaller population than the Greater Toronto Area.

An average of 11 Missourians a day are now dying from COVID-19, a figure likely to increase, perhaps sharply, in the weeks to come.

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Last Thursday, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden announced it was creating “surge response teams” that can be sent out across the United States to help communities facing new, variant-powered outbreaks. Within hours, Missouri had asked for help.

Missouri shows how a pandemic can be reignited, but it also offers hope. What’s happening there is predictable, but also avoidable.

Missouri’s problem is twofold. First, the more easily spread Delta variant is – no surprise – spreading. Second, it is encountering a lot of unvaccinated people.

The state’s vaccination rate plateaued early, and at a low level. Just 45 per cent of Missourians (including those under the age of 12, for whom vaccines are not yet approved) have received at least one shot. The figure for Canada is more than 68 per cent.

And Missouri isn’t the worst U.S. offender; that prize goes to Mississippi, where nearly two-thirds of the people have received zero doses of vaccine.

However, before we get too smugly Canadian, it’s important to remember that Canada’s vaccination campaign also remains incomplete.

The thing politicians most want to talk about – getting second shots into those who’ve already had a first shot – just happens to be the easy part. Vaccine doses are landing in big numbers, and the show-me evidence is that most people who have received a first jab are doing what’s necessary to chase after their second. Mass second-shot clinics are happening across the country, with more than 42 per cent of Canadians 12 years of age and older having now received their second shot. In recent weeks, that figure has been climbing by well over 1 per cent a day.

The more difficult challenge, one this country is paying less and less attention to, is all those Canadians still without their first shot.

The share of Canadians aged 12 or older with at least one dose is nearly 78 per cent. That’s 14 percentage points above the U.S. figure, and well ahead of most of the world – though it’s important to note that, as other developed countries get their hands on more vaccine, some are closing the gap. The British, who are not vaccinating children, have now given at least a first shot to 86.2 per cent of adults. That’s better than Canada’s performance.

This page has long urged Canada to explicitly aim to vaccinate 90 per cent of the eligible population. In some provinces and territories, and among some populations, Canada is close to that goal. In other areas, we’re far from it.

Prince Edward Island leads the country, with 83.2 per cent of residents aged 12 or older with at least a first shot, according to CTV’s data tracker. Just two weeks ago, that figure was nearly six percentage points lower. Bravo PEI. Both Quebec and Nova Scotia are also above 81 per cent.

Bringing up the rear is Saskatchewan – only 70.9 per cent of eligible residents have taken a first shot, a figure that’s recently been rising by only about one percentage point a week. Alberta’s tally, at 72.6 per cent, is slightly higher, but its recent rate of increase has been even slower.

And Ontario, which ought to be the national leader, is tied for third-to-last place among the provinces, at 77 per cent of eligible people with at least a first shot.

What to do? And what happens if large numbers of Canadians – fewer than in the U.S., but still numbering in the millions – go unvaccinated? More on that later this week.

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