The main thing standing between Canada and the end of the pandemic is the supply of vaccines.
Reopening sooner depends on vaccines. Going back to school and work sooner depends on vaccines. The economy bouncing back is riding on vaccines; emptying out hospital intensive-care units sooner comes down to vaccines.
The more doses Canada gets, and the sooner it gets them, the sooner this ends. That’s the bottom line, and it has to be the Trudeau government’s top priority in the coming days.
Yes, the vaccination campaign is already among the best in the world. But it could be better.
Ottawa, to its credit, has done a solid job of acquiring vaccines. After delays and false starts, Canada has imported more than 25 million doses, with Procurement Minister Anita Anand saying Tuesday that 13 million additional shots, and likely several million more, will arrive before the end of June.
And the provinces, despite their own early stumbles, have cranked up the vaccination machinery. This country is now jabbing about 1 per cent of the population every day. Before the Victoria Day long weekend, Canada passed the milestone of half the population having at least one shot, as Canada’s first-shot vaccination level rocketed past the United States.
So this is not a story of failure. But a vaccine-enthusiastic country remains speed-limited by constrained supply.
“One-dose summer, two-dose fall”? With enough vaccines, that could be a one-dose spring, two-dose summer. Canadians, who have lined up and extended their arms like no others, are eager to make it happen. They just need the tools.
The most obvious source of additional vaccines is right next door: the Americans, world leaders in vaccine manufacturing, and also world leaders in vaccine hesitancy, reluctance and hostility.
That leaves the U.S. sitting on a growing pile of unused doses. And a lot of Americans want to share with their neighbours. From North Dakota vaccinating Manitoba truckers, to Detroit clinics offering thousands of idle shots to Windsor, to the New England governors calling for the “sharing of surplus vaccines to Canada,” there’s a will among people, on both sides of the border, to get this done.
What there isn’t, so far, is a will in Ottawa and Washington.
For example, more than two weeks ago, Windsor Regional Hospital chief executive officer David Musyj applied to Health Canada to import 75,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – a shipment small enough to fit in one car. There are Michigan clinics willing to donate to Canadians the same vaccine, manufactured at the same facility, that Canada already imports. This should be a no-brainer.
Yet two weeks later, Mr. Musyj’s application remains in limbo. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg of possibilities. There are millions of U.S. doses going unused, even as the U.S. produces more every day.
The Biden administration recently promised to share tens of millions of doses with the rest of the world – eventually. However, that would put Canada on a long list of countries to be charmed through vaccine diplomacy. And Canada doesn’t need extra doses eventually. It needs them now.
A few million doses, immediately, are worth more than 10 times that in a few months.
Let’s do a little back-of-the-envelope math. There are about 33 million Canadians eligible for vaccination, by virtue of being 12 years of age and older. At an ambitious 90-per-cent vaccination rate, that’s 30 million people to vaccinate. Each one needs two jabs, so 60 million shots.
Canada has already received 25 million shots, a figure that is supposed to hit 40 million or so by the end of June – possibly more, depending on the fuzzy Moderna schedule. Canada has already administered 20 million first doses, putting the country on track to give a first shot to everyone who wants one by mid- to late-June.
But throw in, say, five million extra U.S. doses, right now, and the vaccination campaign goes into overdrive. It could mean hitting the first-dose target earlier in June, and second-dose targets in August or even July.
If Canada doesn’t get any unused American doses, our vaccination campaign will still end up achieving its more modest goals. We’ll get to our destination – but along the way, more people will be hospitalized, more will die and the economy will reopen later.
Isn’t better possible?
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