Canada has the highest first-shot vaccination rate in the G7, the highest in the G20, and is about to pass Israel as the leader among OECD countries.
With the exception of a handful of tiny states such as Malta, and a few British territories such as the Cayman Islands, Canada is first in the world in first shots.
Canada has gone from back of the pack in April to head of the class in June. Credit goes to three actors.
The federal government set the stage by acquiring vaccines. No vaccines, no vaccinations. As of Monday, 30 million doses had been delivered.
However, it’s important to point out that Canada has not received more doses than our peers. Relative to population, we’ve received fewer shots than Britain and about half as many as Israel.
As for the United States, it is literally drowning in doses. Since April, every American who wants a shot has been able to get one, immediately and regardless of age.
In comparison, Canada’s vaccine supply is middle of the pack and in the same league as Germany and Italy.
But two things turned a middling vaccine supply into a stellar first-shot vaccination rate: a smart public-health decision and the eagerness of Canadians to take advantage of it.
In January, Quebec decided to widen the gap between vaccine doses, from several weeks to three months. That maximized a limited vaccine supply, turning nearly every dose into a partly protective first dose. The idea was initially greeted with consternation, but research revealed it to be the right move.
In early April, the other provinces adopted an even more aggressive four-month interval, after the federal vaccine advisory body gave its stamp of approval. The combination of vaccines that finally started arriving in big numbers in April, and a near-exclusive focus on first shots, set the stage for the Canadian vaccination campaign to take flight.
But credit for take-off goes to Canadians. The collective us has been far more eager to get vaccinated than almost any other people. As an America drowning in doses shows, if you want a successful vaccination campaign, vaccines are a necessary but insufficient condition.
Without willing arms, Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca are 100-per-cent ineffective, 100 per cent of the time. Canada has a world-leading supply of willing arms.
As of Tuesday, more than 71 per cent of Canadians at the age of 12 and older had received a first shot. The U.S. rate, far ahead of Canada at the beginning of May, is now 10 points lower.
But having taken the global lead in first shots, Canada is now going back to the starting line in the next event: second shots.
As with the early frames of the first-dose campaign, we’re starting from near the back of the pack. Fewer than 10 per cent of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated. The U.S. figure is more than 50 per cent.
That’s the next gap Canada has to close. Unlike the first-shot race, which has taken more than five months – and isn’t over yet – this next event has to be completed quickly. The quicker, the better.
Provinces and local authorities have already begun to shift from a total focus on first shots to ever more second shots. Over the coming weeks, the balance will steadily tip. Soon, the vast majority of shots will be second doses.
There is no magic level of inoculation where COVID-19 becomes non-existent or unthreatening, but we know that the more people are vaccinated, the lower the risks to them and the community. That’s why we’ve proposed that Canada aim for an ambitious target of vaccinating 90 per cent of eligible Canadians.
That’s higher than what any other jurisdiction has so far achieved, but it’s not out of reach. Yukon has already given a first shot to nearly 80 per cent of its eligible population. Ontario reports that more than 80 per cent of those over the age of 60 have had their first shot. Quebec has given a first shot to 82 per cent of people in their 50s, and 91 per cent of those 60 years and older.
To hit the highest level of vaccination, from coast to coast to coast, and to hit it fast, there are a few key things governments – federal, provincial and local – must do. Canada needs more outreach to the unvaccinated. It also needs more vaccines, sooner.
More on that, later this week.
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