J.R.R. Tolkien coined the term “eucatastrophe” to describe the feeling you get when a tale is marching inexorably toward a grim conclusion, and then, when all seems darkest, it unexpectedly delivers what he called “a sudden happy turn … which pierces you with a joy that brings tears.”
For Canada, the past few weeks have been eucatastrophic. The rest of the month can be even more so. We finally have the tools to write our happy ending, and close the book on the pandemic.
On Monday, Public Services Minister Anita Anand announced another boost to pending deliveries of the Moderna vaccine. Over the next three weeks, Canada is to receive 8.7 million doses of Moderna, 7.2 million doses of Pfizer and one million shots of AstraZeneca. That’s enough to give a jab, whether a first or a second, to half of all eligible Canadians.
To hit an ambitious target of vaccinating 90 per cent of people aged 12 and over, this country needs roughly 60 million shots. By our count, Canada will have received 48.5 million doses by the end of June, and at least 57.6 million by the end of July.
But we aren’t rid of the pandemic just yet. Though this country leads the world in injecting first doses, thanks to Canadians’ eagerness to roll up their sleeves, a couple of challenges remain.
One is big in number, but smaller in difficulty. The other is the opposite.
Let’s start with the relatively lesser challenge: Getting second shots into more than 20 million arms.
Provinces and public-health authorities have to repeat the first-shot rollout of the past five months. Except this time, with so much more vaccine arriving, they have to do it in eight weeks or less.
It’s guaranteed that the second-shot campaign will be marked by speed bumps. In Ontario on Monday, when appointments for second shots were made widely available through the provincial booking system, there were widespread complaints of people unable to find one, or being told to visit a vaccination centre an hour’s drive away.
The frustrations are to some extent inevitable when so many Canadians want to get their second shot, immediately. Even the tidal wave of doses hitting the country this month is not big enough to avoid the need for a queue.
The “problem” is that Canadian demand for vaccines is through the roof. That’s why Canada’s pandemic story is going to end in eucatastrophe.
The other challenge – the harder one – is getting first shots into the one-quarter of eligible Canadians who are still unvaccinated.
This issue is real and pressing. But it’s also different, in scale and nature, from what’s happening south of the border. Repeat after us: Canada is not the United States.
The U.S., despite having so much vaccine that no one need wait in line for a shot, suffers from high levels of hesitancy and hostility. A few states, such as Vermont and Hawaii, have vaccination rates that match or exceed Canada’s. But many others hit a wall, early and hard, back in April.
Only 62 per cent of Americans aged 12 and over have received at least a first shot, versus more than 74 per cent in Canada. And even as Canada pivots to second shots, our first-shot tally continues rising at a faster pace than that of the U.S.
But several provinces, and regions or populations within provinces, are stalling out at lower levels. In Toronto, for example, while nearly 83 per cent of residents aged 18 to 24 have chased down their first shot, the rate among those over the age of 80 is stuck at 75 per cent.
Nunavut, despite its large and early supply of vaccines, has the lowest vaccination rate in the country. Saskatchewan and Alberta are higher, but still shy of 70 per cent of eligible people vaccinated.
The problem is particularly acute in some rural parts of Alberta. In Fort McMurray, 51 per cent of people have received a shot, but that drops to 35 per cent in the rest of the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo. And in Mackenzie county, a region the size of New Brunswick, the figure is just 14 per cent.
What to do? More on that, later this week.
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