Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press
On Sunday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared a national “Omicron emergency.” The first order of business: giving booster shots to every adult – by the end of the month.
The BBC reports that, as of Sunday, 23 million people in the United Kingdom had received a booster, and another 23 million are now eligible to get one by New Year’s Eve. Hitting that target would mean Britain jabbing more than a million arms every day.
It’s an exceptionally ambitious goal, but Mr. Johnson says his country has the vaccines to do the job, and that it will immediately up its capacity to deliver them by deploying support teams from the military, expanding vaccination sites, extending clinic hours and training thousands of volunteer vaccinators.
Et tu, Canada?
The level of urgency in the dominion is lower. Much lower.
For starters, the Trudeau government’s plan to slow the arrival of Omicron by testing all international travellers is still, two weeks after its announcement, in the we’re-working-on-it stage. There aren’t enough tests for all travellers, plus the plan has a giant hole, namely that it exempts travellers from the United States. It’s like trying to lower your home heating bill while leaving your bay window open in the middle of a blizzard.
And the strategy for slowing Omicron at the border, having been poorly implemented, is fast becoming ancient history. Ontario’s Science Table estimated on Monday that 31 per cent of the province’s infections are already Omicron, with the number of cases doubling every three days. Delta has an estimated reproduction number of 1.09 in Ontario; Omicron’s is 4.01. In plain English, that number is off the charts. Omicron is far more contagious than Delta.
So why isn’t Canada moving at the speed of Britain?
Yes, provinces are rolling out booster campaigns, but at nothing like the British pace. For example, until Monday, you generally had to be at least 70 years old to get a booster shot in Ontario. The age cut-off is now 50, and the plan is to drop that to 18 in the New Year. And we don’t mean to pick on Ontario; it’s ahead of most provinces. In British Columbia, the general cut-off age for a booster is 65. In Alberta, it’s 60, with expanded eligibility planned for January. In Quebec, the cut-off age is 70, dropping to 60 next month.
Is this good enough? Ambitious enough?
No. Not even close.
Approximately 29.2 million Canadians have received two doses of vaccine, and 2.8 million have had a booster, according to the COVID-19 Tracker Canada website. That means more than 26 million Canadians of all ages have had two doses, and zero boosters. If Canada were to follow the British approach, making third shots available to all vaccinated adults, about 25 million Canadians would be eligible.
Getting boosters into all of them at even half the British pace – say, over the next month – would mean delivering roughly 800,000 shots a day.
To put that in perspective, in late June and early July, at the peak of the last vaccination campaign, Canada was delivering half a million shots a day. So jabbing more than that many people daily with boosters, while continuing to deliver tens of thousands of pediatric doses to kids aged 5 to 11, and cajoling more of the nearly five million eligible Canadians who have not had even one shot, is a tall order. It won’t be easy.
But here’s the thing: Vaccines are rocket science; getting them into arms isn’t. The hardest part of this job is already done. We’ve got the doses.
Which leaves the relatively easier part: restarting hundreds of recently shuttered mass vaccination clinics; allowing people who aren’t physicians or pharmacists to give shots, as the British are doing; and sending millions of doses to pharmacies and family doctors. It’s not impossible. It’s not even that hard, as Canada showed last spring and summer.
A massive public education campaign to let people know that booster shots (not to mention first shots) are urgently needed, and widely available? Canada merely has to refine what was done earlier this year. Booking systems, websites and phone lines to process millions of appointments? Those are already in place.
Canada has to get moving. We’ve got to stop jogging, like we have all the time in the world, and start running – running like Godzilla is chasing us.
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Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press