In the preliminary months of what is likely to be a year-long COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Canada, a blame game (of sorts) has arisen.
Many provinces have criticized the speed of the federal government’s vaccine delivery and distribution. Ontario and Alberta, specifically, have sounded the alarm about rapidly waning supplies.
The federal government has pointed the finger back, insisting that they’ve been transparent with provinces and territories about delivery forecasts and that Canada is still very much “on track” to meet its goal of providing shots to everyone who wants them by September.
Gen. Dany Fortin, who is overseeing logistical planning for Canada’s vaccine distribution efforts, reiterated that message on Thursday.
“I am optimistic that we have everything lining up in the provinces and territories to vaccinate at scale, as larger amounts arrive in this country,” he told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa.
“The challenge is, right now, we have limited quantities. We’ll have a significant jump in the second quarter, and then we’ll be able to distribute much larger quantities and vaccinate at scale.”
Fortin said deliveries of Pzifer-BioNTech and Moderna’s vaccines will reach up to one million doses per week beginning in April, with 20 million doses planned between April and the end of June.
“This will signal our transition into this ramp-up phase,” he said.
Fortin has, in the past, acknowledged that these delivery forecasts will fluctuate as the complex process of delivering the vaccines is solidified. On Thursday, he maintained that the second “ramp-up” phase will bring things into better alignment.
“I trust that all those little wrinkles will get ironed out so that the provinces, territories and various stakeholders have more and more confidence in the system and more visibility in what’s coming next,” he said.
“I am optimistic that we have everything lining up in the provinces and territories to vaccinate at scale, as larger amounts arrive in this country,”
Progress has been slower than many expected.
Canada has already been outpaced on vaccinations by Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, the United States, Britain, Denmark, Russia, Italy and Germany, according to data assembled by the University of Oxford-based Our World in Data project.
Spain, Iceland and Slovenia are also slightly ahead.
As of Jan. 14, at the time of publication, Ontario had administered 173,258 of its 277,050 doses received. Quebec has given out 124,043 shots of its 162,175 doses, while Manitoba has used 12,409 of its 35,380, according to a vaccine tracker run by a University of Saskatchewan student based on official updates from each province.
While the federal government has taken the lead on procuring doses — signing agreements and coordinating delivery — individual provinces are responsible for actually getting the shots into Canadians’ arms, and later reporting on those inoculations.
Some provinces have faced issues rolling out Pfizer’s delicate, temperature-sensitive vaccine, but supply and speed have been questioned by many premiers — including Ontario’s Doug Ford, who claimed on Jan. 8 that the province is on the verge of running out of vaccines.
A similar situation has unfolded in Alberta, where some regions have reported supply being completely used up. Others are delaying appointments to ration the remaining doses for vulnerable populations.
Experts say it’s hard to know where exactly the kink in the chain is, but agree that improvements can and need to be made quickly.
“Both things can be true. There may be a modest supply of vaccines and vaccines not moving quickly enough,” said Dr. Andrew Boozary, the executive director of health and social policy at Toronto’s University Health Network.
“What we can’t afford right now is a partisan line on vaccines. We cannot afford any delay.”
Boozary said part of the issue is that health-care systems like Ontario’s have been “fragmented” for a long time, which has contributed to “missteps along the way.”
However, he doesn’t believe Ontario’s broad range of medical expertise has been properly tapped in the rollout of vaccines. So far, community health workers, primary care and local public health-care workers haven’t been included in this logistics or process.
To Boozary, that’s a misstep.
Ontario has made an effort to widen the field of practitioners able to administer vaccines– a newly approved temporary regulation that allows pharmacists, interns, students and technicians to administer vaccines.
The focus now needs to be on picking up the pace, Boozary said.
“We need to ensure that expertise is really tapped, is at the table in helping drive this because each day and every hour, we’re either losing lives or we’re saving lives. That’s the calculus right now,” he said.
“As fast as it is going, it can go faster and it needs to go faster to make sure we’re reaching as many people as we can.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is among those who insist Canada is on track. Last week he admitted frustrations over the rollout. Days later, he appeared more confident, saying Canada is “ensuring better efficacy” on delivering ample vaccinations “every day.”
He announced Tuesday that Canada ordered an additional 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Along with the anticipated doses from Moderna, Canada expects 80 million doses to be delivered this year.
Trudeau also remains confident his government will meet its goal of providing shots to everyone who wants them by September.
He said all levels of government are working on having the “most efficient possible system,” so that there is “predictability” for provinces to organize and maintain vaccination schedules.
Just last week, the federal government published its coronavirus vaccine delivery list, featuring forecasted shipment dates that outline exactly how many doses of each vaccine provinces and territories can expect, and when.
Dominic LeBlanc, Canada’s intergovernmental affairs minister, was of the same thinking as Trudeau, telling Global News’ The West Block this week that shortage claims by provinces are “a bit simplistic” and that Canada is getting as many doses as quickly as it can “in an aggressive and effective way.”
“If you knew you had 200,000 in a week, how sincere is it to say, ‘Oh my God, at the end of the week we don’t have any more vaccines?’ Of course you don’t, because there are more coming next week, and then the week after there are even more,” he said.
— With files from the Canadian Press and Global News’ Rachel Gilmore