By Paul Vieira in Ottawa and Vipal Monga in Toronto
The U.S. economy is opening up and Covid-19 vaccines are
increasingly available. But its neighbor to the north has had one
of the slowest vaccine rollouts among developed economies, and is
now imposing new lockdowns to stem a surge in infections.
Canada's lockdowns come as new, more contagious variants of the
coronavirus have taken hold in the country. The rapid spread of the
B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the U.K., and P.1 variant,
which originated in Brazil, has forced authorities in Canada's
biggest provinces to impose new stay-at-home orders and in some
cases, shut down schools.
The country's vaccine rollout, stymied by supply-chain problems
and a lack of coordination at the federal and provincial levels,
contrasts with its initial, aggressive response to securing doses
earlier in the pandemic. Canada clinched deals with eight vaccine
makers, the bulk of them completed before late last year, for
access to as much as 404 million doses -- the most doses per capita
of any advanced economy.
But Canada has been slow to get those shots into people's arms,
and Canadians have watched with envy the progress in the U.S.
Data collected by the University of Oxford's Our World in Data
shows Canada had provided one or more doses to about 16% of its
population as of Tuesday, whereas the U.S. had covered 32% of its
population, the U.K. was at 47% and Israel had reached 61%.
The Oxford data indicate Canada is on par with some countries in
Europe in terms of how much of its population has received at least
one vaccine dose. France had administered at least one dose to 14%
of its population as of Tuesday, and Germany had reached 13% of its
The situation has prompted some Canadians to head south for a
Andrew Sepielli, a philosophy professor at the University of
Toronto, last week drove his family 190 miles southwest to
Harborcreek Township in Pennsylvania to get the first dose of the
Pfizer vaccine. Mr. Sepielli, a U.S. citizen with permanent
resident status in Canada, and his wife, a dual citizen, received
their doses last week at a Walmart pharmacy.
"I saw a lot of friends on Facebook in the U.S. posting their
vaccine selfies, and I knew that once they had their two shots,
they'd be able to go back to their regular lives," he said.
Vaccines were delayed in Canada partly because of the deals that
Canadian officials signed with drugmakers, which "appear to have
relied on backloaded contracts, heavy on options to purchase that
put Canada back in the queue," said Mark Warner, a trade lawyer who
practices in Canada and the U.S. and whose clients include
Through a spokeswoman, Canadian Procurement Minister Anita Anand
said the government has been able to accelerate the
vaccine-delivery timetable "as a result of our ongoing, aggressive
negotiations with suppliers."
For now, the dearth of vaccines has forced Canada into a
targeted approach to immunization, which is leaving large portions
of the country -- such as low-income, essential workers in the
Toronto region -- vulnerable.
"We haven't had the luxury of supply to vaccinate
indiscriminately," said Dr. Jeff Kwong, a professor of family
medicine and public health at the University of Toronto.
The U.S., by contrast, hasn't seen as large a spread of the
variants possibly because more people there have some form of
immunity, either through prior infection or because they have been
vaccinated, he added.
Ontario, Canada's most populous province, said a rapid rise in
hospitalizations and admissions into intensive-care units is
threatening to overwhelm the healthcare system. Health officials
are now worried that Ontario hospitals are running short of drugs
used to treat moderately to critically ill Covid-19 patients.
On Wednesday its government declared a state of emergency and
issued a four-week stay-at-home order. Toronto, the largest city in
Ontario and Canada, closed its schools, forcing over 300,000
students to shift to remote learning.
"We need to get the vaccines where they will have the greatest
impact as quickly as possible," said Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
"This will be critical to get a third wave under control."
Like in Europe, Canada's slow pace of vaccination was partly due
to supply-chain pressures and a decision by Pfizer Inc. in January
to retool its vaccine factory in Belgium -- with Canada sustaining
a 70% cut to shipments for a four-week period that ended
mid-February, deeper than most nations. Unlike the U.S. and Europe,
Canada doesn't manufacture the vaccines.
A Canadian official said the government focused on sourcing
vaccines from Europe, not the U.S., in part due to the risk that
the Trump administration might block the exports of doses. A year
ago, the Trump administration initially blocked shipments of N95
masks to Canada and elsewhere, before relenting.
Canada -- with a population of over 38 million, or about a ninth
of the U.S. -- received about nine million doses in the first three
months of this year. Shipments are expected to accelerate in the
second quarter and reach 44 million in the second quarter.
To bolster immediate supply, Canada tapped additional doses
through the Covax global initiative. While intended to provide
doses to lower-income countries, Covax allows wealthier countries
that contribute, like Canada, to draw on doses "as a critical
Canada has also been able to broaden its reach due to
recommendations by officials to delay a second shot by up to four
Sylvanus Thompson, who is 67 years old, arrived early on
Wednesday for his vaccination appointment at Toronto's downtown
convention center, which has been refitted into a mass vaccination
"I'm relieved," he said after receiving his shot. "We've been
much slower than the U.S., but we don't make any vaccines."
The slow rollout lays bare the gaps in Canada's healthcare
system, said Gary Manson, 68, who was also vaccinated in Toronto on
"It's a great lesson for Canada," he said. "We need to invest in
the pharmaceuticals industry."
Gregory Marchildon, a health-policy expert from the University
of Toronto, said Canada's rollout has also been hampered by its
decentralized federation, in which the provinces have control over
how and when vaccine doses are administered. A coherent approach
requires all levels of government "to collaborate much more closely
than has actually occurred," he said.
--Kim Mackrael contributed to this article.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 08, 2021 14:26 ET (18:26 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.