Nearly three million Canadians are about to become eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Last week, testing data for a pediatric version of the Pfizer vaccine was submitted to regulators in the United States and Canada. Very soon, maybe even this month, approval is expected to be given to vaccine for children aged 5 to 11.
Is Canada ready? The answer appears to be: Not quite. Not yet. Again.
That’s been the story of too much of Canada’s pandemic response. The job gets done, eventually, but more slowly and less competently than should have been the case. Being unprepared for the unexpected is understandable; being unprepared for what Donald Rumsfeld would have called a known-known has become something of a Canadian COVID-19 specialty.
From the start of the pandemic, it was clear the way out was through the eventual development of vaccines. Once developed, Canada knew it would have to procure tens of millions shots, as quickly as possible, while creating a plan for getting them into millions of arms, as quickly as possible. The former was Ottawa’s Job No. 1. The latter topped the provinces’ to-do list.
Yet after vaccines were approved in late 2020, the feds for months were unable to acquire more than a relative handful of shots. Countries such as the U.S. and Israel got to the front of the line; Canada did not. And when Ottawa did its job and millions of shots finally began to flood into the country last spring, it turned out that many provinces still hadn’t finished building the wherewithal to get shots into arms, such as online booking systems.
The foot-dragging continues on electronic vaccination records. It’s been known for the better part of a year that Canadians would need them but provinces such as Ontario are still working on theirs, as are the feds.
The motto of the Royal Canadian Navy is “Ready, aye ready.” The motto of many Canadian governments in the pandemic might as well have been: “Already?”
Canada’s vaccination campaign slowed and nearly stalled this summer, as fewer and fewer people extended their arms. But last month it got a big boost, thanks to the belated imposition of vaccine mandates and proof-of-vaccination requirements for entry to non-essential businesses in much of the country – and the terrifying spike in COVID-19 cases in Western Canada and New Brunswick.
As a result, more than 88 per cent of eligible Canadians – those aged 12 years of age and over – have had at least one shot. Since Sept. 21, nearly 600,000 people have received their first jab, and more than 600,000 have taken their second. That still leaves about 3.9 million eligible Canadians with zero shots, and another 2.2 million who still need their second shot.
It also leaves roughly five million kids under the age of 12 who are unvaccinated because no vaccine is yet approved for them. But once a pediatric dose of the Pfizer vaccine is given the green light, nearly three million of them will become shot-eligible. That gives Canada a golden opportunity to quickly and dramatically shrink our pool of unvaccinated people. That would increase the safety of all children and adults, while lowering the odds of further pandemic shutdowns of schools and businesses.
So what’s Canada’s plan?
Good question. Local and provincial health authorities have generally not released any vaccine rollout plans for ages 5 to 11, though the day when they’ll have to put them into operation is fast approaching. For example, spokespeople for Alberta Health Services and British Columbia’s Ministry of Health were able to provide no details to The Globe and Mail.
And in any case, the precondition of a successful childhood vaccine strategy is not just regulatory approval of the vaccines, but a hefty supply of them.
When will Canada have that? Unclear.
It’s also unclear whether it will be possible to use existing stocks of Pfizer vaccines – the childhood shot is a lesser dose – or whether Ottawa will need to get its hands on a new supply, with vials designed for small-dose administration. As of Tuesday evening, the federal Ministry of Public Services and Procurement had not replied to our questions as to the timelines or quantities of its purchases.
“A day late and a dollar short,” describes a lot of Canada’s response to COVID-19. Please, not again.
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