There’s no shortage of COVID-19 vaccines in the country. Instead, doses are going unadministered.
According to figures compiled by the COVID-19 Canada Open Data Working Group, no province has used more than 40 per cent of the supplies it has received – in Ontario, that number is 25 per cent. Overall, the pace of vaccination has fallen behind other countries, including the U.S. and UK.
While limited supplies are being rolled out by the makers of the two vaccines approved for use in Canada – those of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – the logistical chain has yet to catch up. That’s in part due to the requirement for cold storage, which makes it more difficult than simply shipping out doses to neighbourhood pharmacies, for instance.
Still, there are calls for governments to do more to make vaccines available to more people. Health experts note that the sooner those at risk are immunized, the more lives might be saved. The need is even more pressing in the light of the discovery of new, more transmissible strains of the virus, which makes staying ahead of the curve that much more difficult.
Once the logistics are sorted out, the real hurdle will be getting enough of us on board for the vaccine to make a difference. There’s no exact number, but experts typically look for about a 70 to 85 per cent participation rate for so-called herd immunity to kick in. If too few of us get vaccinated, the virus will continue to spread.
A poll by Abacus Data released early last month on the cusp of the vaccine rollout found about 60 per cent of Canadians had some level of hesitancy. Given the unknowns, that’s not surprising.
Only about a third of those surveyed said they would get vaccinated as soon as possible. More than 40 per cent of us said we might wait a bit to see how things turn out before opting for the shot. Some 13 per cent of us are not inclined to want to take a vaccination but could be persuaded to, while one in 10 say they will not be vaccinated under any circumstances.
Convincing the majority of us to get vaccinated will take some work. Right now, the vaccine isn’t available to most of us, so we’ve got time to monitor how things go with the millions of people globally who have gone down that road.
Health officials are already touting the safety of the vaccines. They undoubtedly hope that real-world data will continue to back that opinion. Such assurances will go a long way in convincing the uncertain among us.
As with wearing masks, being vaccinated doesn’t just protect the individual, it protects others as well. That, too, will be a big part of the messaging from public officials.
Perhaps the most effective will be appeals to self-interest: the sooner most of us are vaccinated, the sooner the economy can reopen and we can all return to our normal lifestyles. Those are saleable points given the coronavirus fatigue that pervades our society.
Health experts, including the likes of the Ontario Medical Association, stress that getting a COVID-19 vaccination will be one of the most important and effective things we can do to stop the pandemic once vaccines become widely available.
For now, the priority is to vaccinate frontline workers in the healthcare system, including those who work in long-term care homes where residents are among those most at risk. Likewise, those over the age of 80 are also on the priority list.
It will be well into the year before there’s enough vaccine to begin inoculating the general public. By that time, we’ll have a better idea not only about the safety of the vaccine, but its efficacy: just now, we don’t know how long the immunity will last, and there’s a chance a shot may have to be given annually in the same way as the flu vaccine.
Transparency and communication from health officials are essential, but each of us will have to do his or her part.