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Canada’s vaccinations are lagging U.S., U.K.. Why experts say that shouldn’t be the focus

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As the world continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the new variants that have emerged, countries are trying to step up vaccinations as much as they can, as fast as they can. Crystal Goomansingh reports how some nations are faring, and the lingering questions on vaccine efficacy – Jan 24, 2021

Canada is trailing the United States and the United Kingdom when it comes to our coronavirus vaccination rates, according to data from Our World in Data.

Data from Feb. 9 shows that the U.K. had vaccinated 20 per cent of its population to date. By Feb. 10, the data showed the U.S. had vaccinated 13.5 per cent of its citizens. Canada, on the other hand, had vaccinated just over three per cent of its population by the same date.

Read more: Canada could double its spring vaccinations if three more COVID-19 vaccines are approved

However, these numbers don’t necessarily mean Canada is failing at its vaccination rollout, according to one expert.

“We’re not the U.K., we’re not the United States. We don’t have that same degree of buying power,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist.

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“Do we honestly think that we’d be in a different situation with different leadership? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think they’ve made the best of a very challenging situation.”

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Bogoch explained that the world of vaccines is a competitive one right now, and Canada isn’t the biggest player in the game — a factor that further complicates our efforts.

“The strategy taken was to procure as many vaccines as possible in a global market that’s difficult to navigate, and that’s putting it politely,” Bogoch said.

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He added that Canada isn’t getting a whole lot of help from our allies, including the United States, as they race ahead in the world vaccination rankings.

“Our best friend and neighbour is producing vaccinations so close to home you could shoot a hockey puck and hit Ontario from the factory in Kalamazoo, (Mich.). But they’re not sending any vaccines our way. So we have to get them from Europe,” Bogoch said.

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“I mean, all things considered, I think we’re — I know it might sound like an unpopular opinion — but I think it’s rolling out as expected.”

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The government has defended its vaccine rollout to date. Speaking during a press conference on Thursday, deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said a multitude of factors creates an uneven vaccination field around the world.

“It’s always challenging to compare different countries because every country has its own particular context, geographical factors, the way the health care system is set up and so on and so forth,” Njoo said.

“I think we just need to focus and concentrate on Canada — we are on track. Certainly, the doses are being rolled out as we’ve just indicated, (we’re) making good headway in terms of our seniors and also our health care workers, and as well in the northern territories. I think the rollout’s gone very well.”

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Despite assurances, Canada’s vaccine rollout has come under fire as delivery delays hit Canada’s expected shipments from both Pfizer and Moderna, leading to fewer vaccine doses arriving in Canada during late January and early February than had previously been pledged. While both companies say they plan to fulfill their promised dose deliveries by the end of March, opposition MPs have already started to slam the vaccine rollout.

“I want this government to succeed but Trudeau has botched the vaccine rollout. Without vaccines, Canadians won’t be able to get back to work and we won’t be able to reopen our economy,” said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole in a tweet on Feb. 5.

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Still, the man in charge of Canada’s vaccine rollout logistics is maintaining that Canada remains on track to offer the vaccine to every Canadian who wants a dose by September.

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“We will get 40 million of each of those vaccines (from Pfizer and Moderna) over the coming months, in total. We’re … on a trajectory for a total of six million doses at the end of this quarter, 20 million in the next one and so on, so forth,” Maj-Gen. Dany Fortin said on Thursday.

“I think it’s very promising. We’re on the right trajectory.”

Bogoch said that if Canada meets this target, concerns about our current ranking on the world’s vaccination stage will likely become a distant memory.

“People are looking at where we are right now. But I think the other important thing to look at is where are we going to be in the middle and at the tail end of 2021,” Bogoch said.

“If we truly have our vulnerable populations vaccinated in April (or) May, and if we truly have anyone who wants a vaccine in Canada vaccinated by the tail end of the summer or in the early fall, I would think that’s a pretty reasonable success. I think that’s a fair win.”