Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday January 7, 2021
Canada’s vaccine rollout is slower than other countries
Canada is falling behind in its initial rollout of COVID-19 vaccines at a critical time in the pandemic, and experts say our most vulnerable populations are being left at risk.
Despite having months to prepare for the deployment of the initial shipment of vaccines to those most threatened by COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, a consistent rollout plan has yet to fully materialize on the ground.
“It just seems to be chaos right now,” said Alyson Kelvin, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University and a virologist at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology evaluating Canadian vaccines with the VIDO-InterVac lab in Saskatoon.
“We know who is a vulnerable population, so we need a strategy of actually vaccinating them.”
Long-term care residents were largely left out of Canada’s initial rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires storage temperatures of –80 to –60 C, in favour of waiting for the more easily transportable Moderna vaccine and vaccinating health-care workers first.
But once thawed, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be used for up to five days at basic refrigeration temperatures — meaning it could be taken out of distribution hubs across the country and brought into long-term care facilities directly during that window of time.
“We treated the Pfizer vaccine with as much care and respect as possible and that really created all these hub sites,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University. “And I think that did hinder some of the innovation and the ability to do things elsewhere.”
The federal government has deployed almost 500,000 doses of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to distribution sites across the country since mid-December, but the actual rollout of vaccinations is up to the individual provinces and territories.
Quebec took the bold step of actually putting its vaccine distribution centres inside long-term care facilities, making it easier to inoculate residents as quickly as possible.
While British Columbia made the decision to move the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from its distribution sites almost immediately into long-term care homes to inoculate residents and staff upon receiving its first doses.
Yet Ontario decided against bringing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine directly into long-term care homes initially, despite other provinces doing so, and is only now doing so more than three weeks after receiving its first shipment.
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, announced Tuesday the city would be transporting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine out of its distribution hub at the Ottawa Hospital and directly into long-term care residences, after vaccine-handling criteria from Pfizer were changed.
Despite receiving 53,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine last week, which is much easier to bring into long-term care residences, only 3,000 doses have actually been administered in Ontario as of Tuesday. (CBC)