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opinion

The Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Dartmouth, N.S. on June 3, 2021.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Given the steady fall in COVID-19 cases, and the steady ramp up in vaccinations – as of Thursday, nearly 68 per cent of Canadians aged 12 or over had received at least one shot – this country has reason to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Canada is on the verge of closing out the deadly, dreary reality of the past 15 months. For the first time in a long time, we’re not just enduring COVID-19; we’re actually winning.

But “winning,” the present tense of the verb, is not the same thing as “won,” past tense. The former must precede the latter; the latter is not guaranteed by the former. (For more lessons in conjugation, consult the Toronto Maple Leafs.)

There are still obstacles standing between here and the postpandemic future. The brake on the speed at which we can put COVID-19 behind us is the pace of vaccinations. And unfortunately, Canadians’ healthy vaccine appetite continues to outpace Canada’s vaccine supply.

Canadians are doing their part, lining up to receive shots as quickly as they land on our shores. And the Trudeau government, to its credit, has done a solid job of acquiring vaccines. Despite stumbles and setbacks earlier this year, Canada as of June 1 had received 28 million doses from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

But Canada needs still more shots, and it needs them now.

Having enough vaccine to double-dose every willing Canadian by September would be good. Getting the job done by midsummer would be better.

To get to a 90-per-cent vaccination rate among eligible Canadians, with two shots each, this country needs 60 million doses. Canada is scheduled to get its 40 millionth dose by the end of June, and hit 50 million by the end of July.

If Ottawa can acquire an extra 10 million doses over the next four weeks, this country will have what it takes to hit the 90-per-cent target in late July, or early August. That would be the best performance in the developed world, by a wide margin.

However, Canada still has no domestic vaccine production. So it all comes down to haggling with foreign producers, and governments, notably the one in Washington.

On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden, whose country is sitting on a huge stockpile of vaccines and an even bigger production capacity, announced that the U.S. will finally be sending more of that supply to the rest of the world. The plan is to ship 80 million doses overseas by the end of June.

According to the Biden administration, of the first 25 million doses, 19 million will go to the developing world. The other six million will go to a group Canada is part of – but it’s a big group. Members include Mexico, South Korea, the West Bank and Gaza, Ukraine, Kosovo, Haiti, Georgia, Egypt, Jordan, India, Iraq, Yemen, United Nations workers and Canada.

Canada’s share is likely to be small.

However, the Biden administration this week also opened the door for exports from three manufacturers, each with vaccines not approved in the United States. Two of those vaccines, from Sanofi and Novavax, are still in the testing stage. It could be months until they’re ready to go.

The other vaccine is AstraZeneca.

Ottawa should be trying to secure millions of these shots – but a dispiriting back and forth among Health Canada, the provinces and the federal advisory body known as NACI has undermined confidence in this vaccine.

Canada is supposed to receive another million AstraZeneca doses in June – even as provinces begin planning to give second shots of low-supply Pfizer or Moderna to hundreds of thousands of people who received a first shot of AstraZeneca.

One way or the other, Canada will finish the vaccination campaign by fall – but sooner would be better. Only Ottawa has the power to make that happen.

The Trudeau government is under pressure to donate some of Canada’s supply to the developing world – to effectively slow Canada’s vaccine rollout, and give more to countries with less than us. We’d suggest a different approach: Focus entirely on getting all Canadians vaccinated, as soon as possible. Then donate the bulk of Canada’s outstanding orders and options – Ottawa contracted for more than 400 million doses – to needy countries.

It could be the biggest and most impactful foreign aid plan in Canadian history. Just take care of Canadians first.