With an unclear end in sight, Canadian provinces are under pressure from their citizens to speed up the vaccination process. The quantity and distribution of the new COVID-19 vaccine are the two challenges that Canada is facing at the moment. Canada and the United States have similar locations and economic circumstances, making their situations easily comparable in terms of rollout efficiency and possible government goals. Results in these categories have differed because of their respective plans of action and population size.
Having said that, both countries were able to come out with formulated vaccine rollout plans in the midst of the announcement of an approved immunization commencing with Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine. These plans are required to follow the rules set by the pharmaceutical companies, a particularly important step with a newly distributed vaccine affecting the health of the entirety of each country.
As of now, Canada has vaccinated around 4% of their population, while the United States has vaccinated over 12% of their citizens and 10-15% of the population in each state. A majority of these vaccines were sent from Pfizer BioNTech and the remainder from Moderna. The Canadian immunization rate is not as high as the United States’ rate largely because of the challenges of vaccine quantity and distribution in Canada. This brings to question the efficiency of Canada’s inoculation strategies and priorities.
In Canada, each province has distinct priority lists based off of the location of the population and the storage properties of the vaccine in certain areas. The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine had to be stored at -80 to -60 degrees Celsius back in early December when the vaccine was first approved. For instance, the remote provinces of Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut did not receive initial deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine whereas in Alberta, the regions bordering the US were able to receive the shipment of Pfizer but, as a result of the cost of storage due to temperature requirements, Northern regions in Alberta were unable to receive the shipment.
In Quebec, the initial administering of vaccines began in mid- December and has now reached 3.1 % of the population, with solely one dosage. Further, Quebec has created a 10-step priority list beginning with the province’s most vulnerable and non-autonomous individuals residing in long-term care.
In the United States, similar to the Canadian guidelines, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended health care workers and vulnerable populations to be the first to receive the dosage.
Presently, the Pfizer vaccine is available at warmer temperatures of -25 to -15 degrees Celsius, and no longer requires specialized transport equipment. The Moderna vaccine, approved by Health Canada and the FDA on December 23rd, 2020, continues to offer an alternative to the low temperature storage required of the Pfizer vaccine. Thankfully, starting December 28th, 2020, this led to the accessibility of the vaccine in the northern provinces of Canada. This allowed for more distribution to Canadians not living in big cities.
As mentioned, the location of Canada’s populations are one of two major problems the country faces in terms of distribution. Thus, the availability of the new vaccines stored at higher temperatures has had a positive impact on Canada’s immunization rate.
Currently, the percentage of immunized individuals in each country covers only the first dose. In order to be completely protected, individuals must receive a second dose merely 3 weeks after administration of the first. Considering that Pfizer, Moderna, and the FDA have had no regulated research on the delay of the second inoculation, each government has had to strictly follow the guidelines of the creators.
Fortunately, the United States has followed this timeline and is set to vaccinate a minimum number of people while guarding the additional supply for a second dose. On the other hand, Canada has not had success with the delivery of the present supply. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization in Canada has declared it safe for a delayed administration of the second dose. They have decided against this immunization timeline due to the need for more protection and the delays in production and shipment of the product.
Moreover, the methods of distribution in each country are leading to increasing inoculation in their populations. However, the number of people vaccinated does not solely define success and safety during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Observing and analyzing the evidence of the safest methods of immunization will positively impact the eradication of the COVID-19 virus and its strains.
The concern now revolves largely around the population’s sense of safety. As much as the COVID-19 vaccine has spiked hope and anticipation, the varying logic of the rollout plans have confounded the population of Canada. Administering both of the acquired doses rapidly to a limited number of people as the US is doing may not be safer. Indeed, Canada might be on the right track with their slow but methodical design.
The Canadian government, particularly Quebec’s government, are not trying to restrict health care workers from their deserved second dose, but are aiming to inoculate a larger number of the population to attain herd immunity faster due to their spiking cases between September 2020 and potentially through April 2021.
Although the circumstances across provinces varies in Canada, the issue of quantity became a problem when second doses were delayed for longer than the approval of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. While Pfizer and Moderna pharmaceuticals are not too worried for Canada’s population with only one dose past the deadline, many people are frightened, given the potential negative outcomes of not respecting the new vaccines’ guidelines.
The Quebec government has had a shipment of doses that was impeded by the shortage of Pfizer vaccines. Many countries are in no such predicament as their rollout directives accounted for this circumstance. In turn, many governments decided to protect a smaller portion of their population with two vaccines rather than a widespread portion with only one vaccine.
To that end, the logic behind Canada’s plan has not addressed everyone’s worries. Although the safety of this method is not contested by Health Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the two major pharmaceutical companies in charge of producing the vaccine, the lack of research on the first inoculation and its effectiveness without the second dosage makes it difficult to judge Canada’s decisions. Only time will tell whether this was a good choice or whether Canada was too quick to judge the power of solely administering the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Edited by Yu Xuan Zhao
Photo Credits: “Canada Purchases Covid-19 Vaccines from Various Pharmaceutical Companies”, taken on December 12, 2020, by Marco Verch, licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0). No changes were made.
Juliana Malka is a second year student studying a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in Life Sciences at McGill University. She is passionate about international human rights and is serving as a staff writer for Catalyst.