Compared with the world’s other wealthy countries, Canada’s vaccination rate is close to dead last. As of Wednesday, this country had given just 4.2 shots per 100 people. Israel, which like Canada has no domestic vaccine production, is at 88.8 shots per 100 people. The United Kingdom: 27.3 shots per 100. The United States is at 19.4. A small handful of European countries started February behind Canada; all have since jumped well ahead. Norway, which trailed on Feb. 1, has now given nearly twice as many shots per capita as Canada.
One reason for the stalled vaccination campaign is, of course, the weeks of dramatically reduced deliveries from manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna. It’s been a humiliation for the Trudeau government, not to mention a serious setback for efforts to roll back the virus, save lives and return the Canadian economy to health.
But a month of vaccine penury may have been a blessing in disguise – not for Canadians, mind you, but for the reputations of provincial governments.
The provinces run health care, so it’s up to them to get shots into arms.
Yet had they been given millions of doses earlier, many provinces do not appear to have been anything close to ready to receive them. Picture an airline forced to delay flights due to bad weather, but which likely would have grounded a lot of passengers anyhow, owing to a shortage of planes, pilots and – above all – planning.
With vaccine deliveries set to increase dramatically in March, April and beyond, questions remain about how ready the provinces are to efficiently and accurately book appointments, jab patients, track results and compile reams of big data on patient outcomes and adverse reactions.
That really shouldn’t be so hard, which is why there’s reason to hope all will go well, or well enough. But as with so many things about Canada’s response to the pandemic, a lot of planning for the inevitable and the un-unexpected has, once again, been left to the final minutes of the 11th hour.
On Wednesday morning, Alberta began offering vaccinations to people 75 years and older through a new online appointment website. It promptly crashed. Over the course of the day, many people were unable to access the site, though by early evening, Alberta Health Services reported that more than 30,000 had been booked for shots.
Meanwhile in Ontario, the province’s inoculation czar, retired general Rick Hillier, told a press conference that his province’s appointment booking site and call centre would be up to the task.
“We’re going to put a large number of operators in there when we go live on 15 March,” he said, promising “a huge number of operators, the maximum number we can put there and work it. And then, if they’re not needed, we’ll ramp back down, as opposed to starting with lower level and ramping up.”
That sounds like a reasonable plan, but note the go-live date: March 15. Alberta’s website may have run into bugs on Feb. 24, but Ontario’s won’t even be operating for nearly three weeks. The first appointments, for those aged 80 and up in non-institutional settings, won’t be until late March.
Repeatedly asked by reporters why this is so, and more generally why the province appears to be still figuring out where, how and by whom Ontarians will be vaccinated, Mr. Hillier repeatedly said that it wasn’t necessary to have the website and call centre up and running “because we simply don’t have the vaccines.”
Yes, but what if vaccines had arrived on time, or early?
Soldiers often joke that the army’s unofficial motto is “hurry up and wait.” But hurrying up and waiting – otherwise known as being prepared – is actually a pretty good strategy, compared with “wait as long as possible, then wait some more, then hurry.”
We don’t mean to pick on Mr. Hillier. If anything, he’s a victim of these circumstances, not an author, and his late arrival into this new position reflects that. It’s been known since last spring that the end of the pandemic would involve a mass vaccination campaign. Yet Ontario didn’t hire him as its vaccine distribution chief until late November – just weeks before the first doses landed. Wait, then hurry.
And that’s been the story of so much of Canada’s COVID-19 response: a dollar short, a day late, and surprisingly unprepared for the entirely unsurprising.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.