Canada has become a world leader in vaccinations—partly because the country can’t stand losing to the U.S.
After months of watching in envy as our American friends got fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at the start of the year Canadians surpassed the U.S. vaccination rate in April, only to continue the high uptake and become a world leader in vaccinations, second to Kuwait, according to Our World in Data. Two-thirds of Canadians have received at least one dose of a two-dose vaccine and nearly a fifth are fully vaccinated. (Children under 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated so the number of eligible Canadians who are vaccinated sits at just over 75 percent.)
Even getting a vaccination appointment in some cities is considered a major win as demand for jabs outstrips their availability, and many Canadians are now mixing and matching vaccine brands for their first and second doses to get vaccinated more quickly. (That means someone who got AstraZeneca or Pfizer for their first dose could get Moderna for their second.)
“I’m really excited and I’m glad the pessimism about vaccine hesitancy was probably exaggerated,” University of Toronto epidemiologist Dr. Susan Bondy said.
The same can’t be said of the U.S. where a little more than half of Americans have received one dose (45 percent of the population is fully vaccinated). President Joe Biden had set a target of having 70 percent of Americans vaccinated by July 4. But the current pace, which only resulted in a 1 percent increase in vaccinated Americans over the past two weeks, would need to double right now to realistically hit the mark. Only 15 of 50 states and Washington, D.C. have achieved the goal.
Today, Canada’s vaccine campaign isn’t showing signs of abating—a stark contrast to the U.S. The different uptakes likely boils down to trust in government and health care, two experts told VICE World News.
“Canadians generally have more faith in their government than what we see in the U.S.,” said Dr. Stephen Hoption Cann, a University of British Columbia epidemiologist.
Americans will probably express more skepticism when their government says vaccines are in their best interests, while more Canadians have accepted that vaccines are beneficial for everyone, Hoption Cann said.
Across Canada, returning to normalcy is contingent on vaccine uptake. In Ontario, one quarter of residents need to be fully vaccinated and about 70 to 80 percent need to have at least one dose before most restrictions are removed. Alberta said that all public health measures will be removed on July 1, since 70 percent of people have been jabbed at least once. Activities like travel are also increasingly dependent on vaccination proof, further pushing people to get vaccinated, Hoption Cann said.
According to Bondy, competition between Canada and the U.S. may have also played a small role in Canada’s rapid vaccine uptake. “There could even be a bit of an international rivalry, like, ‘We beat the U.S.,’” Bondy said.
Canada has also managed to overtake Israel, a country that paid high premiums for vaccines and even sold personal data in exchange for doses early on. Nearly 60 percent of Israelis are fully vaccinated.
It wasn’t always going to be this way. Canada doesn’t have the ability to produce its own vaccines in-house—and it won’t until 2022—so the country has had to rely on bulk shipments from overseas. Any delays at Pfizer or Moderna facilities means delivery delays for Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even dubbed this summer a “one-dose summer,” in reference to the fact that most Canadians would only be partially vaccinated. The goal, Trudeau said previously, was to have all willing people fully vaccinated by September.
While many Canadians are racing to get jabbed, willingness to get vaccinated falls along political lines just like in the U.S. VICE World News previously reported how conservatives are less likely to get vaccinated.
In Alberta, the most vaccine hesitant province in Canada, 70 percent of residents have been vaccinated—but that figure plummets in rural areas where one-dose coverage sits between 20 and 40 percent. The same is true in U.S. states that voted for former president Donald Trump during the 2020 election.
“A person is more likely to listen to somebody who is a thought leader that they can personally identify with, so if you self-identify as being from rural Alberta, then somebody who also speaks to you and in your own language is effective,” Bondy said.
Lotteries and free gifts are also effective. Manitoba and Alberta have both announced lotteries that allow vaccinated residents the chance to win millions of dollars, vacations, and festival tickets after getting jabbed. The hope is that Canadians will keep rushing to get vaccinated, even if a slowdown is inevitable once the most eager are vaccinated and COVID-19 rates continue to decline.
As of Thursday, there were fewer than 10,000 active infections nationwide. That’s compared to the pandemic’s third wave peak in April, when the country was reporting more than 8,000 new cases per day.
Hoption Cann also warned against foregoing the second dose.
Having two doses of any approved vaccine keeps people much safer from COVID-19 and variants of concern, such as the highly contagious Delta variant, Hoption Cann said.
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