In December, before the COVID-19 variants changed the course of the pandemic, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau boasted that he had acquired enough potential vaccines to protect a population four times that of Canada. But four months later, not even two percent of Canada’s population of just under 38 million is fully vaccinated and large areas of the country are returning to confinement thanks to a brutal third wave.
Canada has recorded nearly one million cases and 23,000 deaths since the pandemic began. Trudeau hoped to vaccinate the population by June, but now says that all Canadians who want a vaccine will receive it by the end of September. Canada is one of the only major economies in the world that has not attempted to manufacture its own coronavirus vaccine.
Meanwhile, variants are emerging.
On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a strong warning that even fully vaccinated Americans should avoid traveling to Canada. And if they are for essential purposes, they should be tested three to five days after the return. “This is not the news that any of us wanted, but hospitalizations are increasing, ICU beds are filling up, variants are spreading and even people who have convinced themselves that they need not worry are getting sick,” he said. Trudeau at a news conference Tuesday. “Even though the sun is shining and the weather is getting hotter, COVID-19 is not over yet,” he said, calling the third wave of the pandemic “very serious.”
Even more worrying is that the majority of new cases seen in the hospital’s intensive care units are increasingly younger patients, according to Canada’s leading health expert. “Although COVID-19 continues to impact people of all ages in Canada, infection rates are highest among those aged 20 to 39,” said Theresa Tam, Canada’s director of public health, in a statement on Wednesday. “In addition, we are seeing an increasing number of adults, under the age of 60, being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals, including intensive care units.”
So how can a country that has ordered more vaccines per capita than anywhere else in the world now have so many problems? Canada does not produce vaccines in its territory – either by creating its own vaccines or by making others – and the imported doses simply have not been delivered. The Canadian government’s vaccine maker was privatized in the 1980s and eventually purchased by the French company Sanofi, whose own vaccination efforts failed.
Trudeau announced last week that Pfizer will finally start delivering one million doses a week after the United States released exports, now that it is clear that there is enough supply for Americans first. AstraZeneca also promised to deliver 20 million of its increasingly controversial vaccine, which should also help kick-start the painfully slow launch. Moderna and Johnson and Johnson have also been approved for use in Canada, but have not yet been delivered in any considerable quantities.
Trudeau is being criticized by angry Canadians after admitting that the country would not be the first in line for vaccines because they were not producing locally. Then, when the EU imposed restrictions on vaccine exports, Canada once again paid the price for missed deliveries. The Biden government has yet to commit to exporting to Canada or Mexico, both of which are suffering from shortages.