What is Behind Canada’s Slow Vaccine Rollout?

By Randy Chang

Much like the annual head steward promises to reform the LD, the early days of Canadians looking on in horror at America’s pandemic response have completely disappeared as time has passed. In what is best described as a geopolitical domestic policy “uno reverse” card, Canadians are now flocking to the United States to wait out the pandemic. Now, a little ball of jealousy seems to reside in every Canadian resident with American friends. As all Canadians scream “where are my heartwarming tales of reuniting with vaccinated parents? ” while hugging the TV remote and making visits to their local pantry, the eternal question awaits: why is Canada’s vaccine rollout so slow?

As of May 1st, 2021, the Canadian government has reported that 33.67% of the Canadian population has received at least one dose of a vaccine. Of those roughly 13 million people, roughly 1 million are vaccinated (2.68% of the total Canadian population).  In the United States, around a quarter of the population are fully vaccinated.

So yes, the problem is bad. Keep in mind, this is after the four month Canadian warmup (very similar to a Year 9 gym class, in that way). For a while, U.S. vaccination rates were nearly double Canada’s. 

Yet it remains hard to rationalise. Remember who exactly we’re comparing here: Canada, a reasonably developed country with fewer people, a universal health care system, and a handsome prime minister who, more importantly, did not call a worsening pandemic a “media conspiracy”, compared to Trump’s America. The average person would think it’s reasonable to extrapolate pandemic response to vaccine rollout- and Canada’s pandemic response was at least reasonable in comparison to the early United States. Canada didn’t even have a culture of anti-masking libertarians, not to the same extent anyway.

Essentially, in the early stages of vaccine rollout, it was like asking whether a high school dropout that failed English would be better at math than a student who attended MIT. Then the dropout wows everybody, and you have Good Will Hunting. 

But why? Why did the U.S outperform Canada in healthcare of all things. It feels like Canada is losing in curling to the United States. Basketball would be understandable. Hockey would sting stings. But curling? Come on!

A primary reason for the gaping discrepancy was the lack of domestic vaccine production. The U.S. provides most of the drugs used in Canada, and Europe/India produce most of our COVID vaccines. Even if we wanted more domestic pharmaceutical companies, it’s hard under the strict gauntlet of drug price regulation, which dissuades a number of pharmaceutical companies. And relying on other countries usually works fine: unless you’re in a global health crisis where their own citizens are equally vulnerable; domestic vaccines are used domestically. Essentially, with little existing manufacturing capability that guarantees direct vaccines for citizens, Canada had to order from Amazon (well, other countries, but you get the point).

That leads to the second reason: Amazon package delays (well, vaccine shipments from countries, but same difference). Initial contracts ordered by the federal government were backloaded. Even when shipments came, initial disorganisation came with trying to get vaccines to provinces. Provinces then had to decide who would get vaccinated first, a highly charged political question. In sum, even when we got vaccines, they were administered slowly. 

There is cause for hope. Canada’s shipments are speeding up as more of the rest of the world has been vaccinated, and the initial days of confusion are over. One day, we’ll return to the days of American envying our free healthcare. But for now, a vacation to Florida has never been more appealing. I’m kidding, obviously. Travel is not a good idea.