Much has been asked of Canada’s federal and provincial governments over the last year, but it’s probably fair to say that the rollout of coronavirus vaccines is the most important responsibility those governments have had in our lifetimes.
And while Canadians should have realistic expectations and some degree of patience, we are very much entitled to state loudly and clearly: “Do not screw this up.”
Perhaps it’s inevitable that some level of “screw up” is going to be baked in to any government endeavor, especially those of the large and complex variety. Incompetence is not inevitable, however, and we should not be satisfied with “good enough.”
When the stakes are this high, the bar should be set high, too — and at this point, sadly, “good enough” would be an improvement.
Perhaps we are already taking for granted the remarkable scientific and medical achievement that is the development of safe and effective coronavirus vaccines. That we would be discussing the pace of vaccinations less than a year after the pandemic was first declared is indeed something to be marvelled at.
But that shouldn’t provide cover for a botched government rollout. It would be a tremendous shame if we squandered the advantage science and medicine has provided us. And if governments needed any additional incentive, it’s this: Canadians will not forget and will not forgive any governments that fail us on this matter.
That may explain some of the finger-pointing that has ensued with regard to Canada’s disappointing vaccine rollout. During a first ministers’ call this week, there were some strong differences between the premiers and the prime minister as to who bears responsibility for the current state of affairs.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had complained publicly about how he was “frustrated to see vaccines in freezers and not in people’s arms.” That irked the premiers, but some recently released data regarding vaccines received versus vaccines administered suggest that the prime minister is not entirely wrong.
However, the premiers were quick to note that they are at the mercy of Ottawa when it comes to available supply.
Toronto’s University Health Network, for example, sounded the alarm Thursday about its supply of the Pfizer vaccine. With some 3,000 appointments booked over the next three days, there are no vaccines available to administer.
Quebec’s premier, meanwhile, has said that his province is ready to start administering up to 250,000 doses each week, but that pace would outstrip Canada’s entire expected supply for January.
So the premiers are not entirely wrong, either. You might say that there’s plenty of blame to go around, which does not bode well for either side if things continue as they are.
It’s true that Canada is not the only country where the vaccine rollout has run into problems and controversy. But that list includes the United States, and it is well ahead of Canada when it comes to per-capita vaccinations.
The prime minister has made much of the fact that Canada has arrangements in place for tens of millions of vaccines — far more than we will realistically need. But agreements for what we might have in the future don’t amount to much in the here and now. Other vaccine approvals are coming, but countries that are ahead of us, like the U.S. and Israel, and dealing with the same vaccines we currently are.
But assuming the feds are able to ramp up our procurement, there are still valid questions around how prepared the provinces are to receive and administer those vaccines.
The initial weeks of vaccinations suggest that there is much work to be done on that front, too. If we’re struggling to administer vaccines by the thousands, how are we going to handle vaccinating by the hundreds of thousands or by the millions?
Given the ongoing health and economic impact the pandemic is having, there needs to be much more urgency in our vaccination efforts than what appears to be there. The emergence of what appear to be even more transmissible variants of this virus adds even more urgency to getting this right.
Canadians don’t want excuses and we certainly aren’t interested in jurisdictional squabbles between governments. We want results — it’s a big ask, but a fair one.