Skip to main content
opinion

Canada’s vaccine campaign is like the Toronto Maple Leafs’ spring, in reverse. In the space of little more than a month, the country has gone from also-ran to top of the leaderboard.

A week and a half ago, the fast-rising percentage of Canadians with at least one dose of vaccine passed that of the United States.

This week, Canada will move ahead of the United Kingdom, the Group of 20 leader. Next week, the share of Canadians with at least one shot is likely to pass Israel – the developed world’s vaccination champion.

As of Tuesday, more than 66 per cent of eligible Canadians – those 12 years of age and older – had received at least one shot. Despite a vaccine supply both smaller and arriving later than many peer countries, Canada has surged ahead, owing to the eagerness of Canadians.

The results are remarkable. But if we’re going to bury COVID-19, they’re still not good enough.

As The Globe and Mail reported this week, modelling from Simon Fraser University suggests the optimal level of vaccination among the eligible population is 90 per cent or more. This is the target this page believes Canada should aim for.

It means that, even as the provinces begin to pivot to delivering ever more second doses, the percentage of Canadians receiving their first shot still has to rise, by a lot.

Canada reached nearly seven out of 10 adults and teens by doing little more than setting up clinics, opening online booking and waiting for eager people to line up, like tweens chasing tickets to a BTS concert.

Reaching the remaining population won’t be so easy.

Yes, some Canadians are actively hostile to vaccines and believe the past 15 months were a hoax. But they appear to be a relatively tiny minority.

Far more of those who are still unvaccinated are that way because of much more mundane barriers, such as language, mobility, technology and information.

For many Canadians – speakers of English or French; users of laptops and smartphones; consumers of lots of news; owners of cars – the current vaccination process is easy. They log on to a website, find a vaccine location within a 30-minute drive and get their shot. They did it weeks or months ago.

But for other Canadians – perhaps not as fluent in English or French; who don’t have a smartphone or computer; who don’t look things up online; who aren’t as mobile – the situation is different.

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest reaching that second group is about simple things – such as bringing shots to their neighbourhoods, in their language, from their community. The problem isn’t hesitancy; it’s access and convenience.

Take central Toronto’s Kensington-Chinatown area. In mid-May, its adult vaccination rate was just 35 per cent. Because of a concerted push of communication and convenient pop-up clinics, that figure has jumped to 61 per cent.

Efforts such as this, repeated thousands of times across the country, are what it’s going to take to boost Canada’s vaccination rate to 90 per cent.

In Saskatchewan, the province is offering vaccines to children 12 years of age and over, in schools. What would be even better? Invite parents and extended families to come in and get their shot, too.

At Montreal’s airport, incoming seasonal farm workers will be offered a first dose in the arrival hall.

In Toronto, the city recently robo-called 150,000 people in hot-spot neighbourhoods. What would be even better? If the provinces, which know who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t, sent a letter to everyone in the latter group. Offer them a vaccine appointment. Offer a free ride to that appointment or bring the shot right to their door.

All of this should be second nature to politicians because it’s straight out of the political campaign playbook. It’s called “ground game” – techniques for maximizing a candidate’s number of supporters and maximizing the number who actually show up to vote.

And many voters need a nudge, or more. Some need reminders. Some need a knock on their door. Some need advance voting days. Some need a lift to the polls. Some need the polls brought to them.

We know how to raise Canada’s vaccination level to 90 per cent. Vaccines are rocket science – getting them into arms isn’t.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.