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Despite the fact that Canada ordered the world’s highest number of COVID-19 vaccine doses per capita around the globe, as of March 2021 they were ranked 21st around the world in vaccine distribution.
Critics blamed the slow pace of Canada’s vaccine rollout to the lack of domestic vaccine manufacturing facilities, and the country’s inability to mass produce vaccines, thus leaving Canadians reliant on doses produced elsewhere.
In March of 2021, Canada was vaccinating 9 vaccines per 100 people, compared to the U.S. who were vaccinating 34 doses of vaccine per 100 people at the time. American states like Mississippi and Alaska became the first two states in March to open vaccination appointments to residents 16 years and older; a stage in vaccinations that Canada was severely lagging behind in.
As the largest vaccination campaign in Canada’s history, manufacturing delays from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna in the early months of 2021 resulted in smaller-than-anticipated shipments of vaccines made available to some of the most vulnerable Canadians across the country; the elderly, healthcare employees, and other essential workers.
With Pfizer’s vaccine doses coming from Belgium, and Moderna’s supply coming from Switzerland, production problems suffered by both companies in their European plants left Canadians frustrated as the United States continued to streamline their vaccine distribution through Moderna’s second production plant on American soil.
International interference in the distribution of life-saving treatments was a risk Canadians decided to take when organizing vaccine shipments. The possibility of major COVID-19 outbreaks in Europe and the U.S could have caused further delays, as companies have the ability to reserve their supplies for the countries in which their plants are located. For example, the European Union implemented a controversial export authorization scheme for COVID-19 vaccines, which requires any EU-based vaccine manufacturers producing doses in Europe to seek approval from the national government, before exporting them out of the EU.
As a result, Canada was left vulnerable to the policies and distribution methods that are outside of their control, risking the lives of thousands of Canadians with every delay in shipments that can stall vaccine distribution for weeks on end. Canadians were not prepared for vaccine distributions of this magnitude on a domestic scale, and they have relied heavily on foreign pharmaceutical companies and the goodwill of other countries to supply vaccines. As we continue to be at the mercy of companies beyond Canadian borders, it can be expected that there may very well expect future issues and delays in shipment.
Ensuring that Canada becomes more self-reliant is vital in being prepared for national pandemics such as this one. Domestic production would not have only provided Canadians with vaccines at a more consistent rate, but Canada would have control over the supply, distribution, and delivery of its supply in order to save the lives of those who need it most, and quickly ease Canadians back into their normal lives.
By Sophie Chong