March 5th, 2021

Editorial: Homegrown vaccine a missed opportunity for Canada

By Medicine Hat News Opinion on February 13, 2021.

While an army of federal and provincial government officials continue to assure us that Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is still nominally on track, doubts have been growing in many quarters across the nation that getting those needles into millions of waiting arms will not be coming anywhere close to meeting the timelines that have been previously established.

In many ways, the stumbles that have come in fits and starts through our vaccine rollout odyssey perhaps shouldn’t be all that surprising to Canadians. Early on, when the first whispers of potential vaccines receiving approval were working their way through the media wires and onto the front pages, we were treated to bright and hopeful pronouncements with optimistic timelines by myriad provincial governments hand-in-hand with those coming straight from the top in Ottawa.

To say some of those cheery predictions have now proven to be overly optimistic would be an understatement. And while it probably should have been expected that governments would attempt to make political hay out of the prospect of a vaccine rollout presented to us in the midst of a lockdown, not being able to deliver effectively on those promises is leaving significant egg on those same faces in recent days and weeks, including that of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Unfortunately for our hapless leadership – literally from coast to coast – seizing on what seemed like a political life preserver after confronting day after day of depressing news and statistics seemed like a no-brainer at the time. But when you can’t meet deadlines you so diligently provided, citizens and voters start to ask questions. And when those questions don’t have ready answers from those who should be in the know, frustration and anger start to spread like a black tide.

On paper at least, Canada’s efforts to secure an adequate vaccine supply would lead one to believe the nation was trending toward millions of doses being available from multiple suppliers in a reasonable timeframe. By the end of January, Canada had ordered the world’s largest number of COVID-19 vaccine doses per capita. But recent statistics show that when it comes to actual vaccinations, supply and distribution problems have Canada lagging far behind several other developed countries.

According to the Financial Post earlier this week, the nation has now slipped to 38th place in the global race to vaccinate behind countries like Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia and Iceland, as well as the U.S, which also has Canada firmly in the rearview mirror in sixth place. Despite more than $1 billion invested to access up to 414 million doses, at the end of last month barely more than three-quarters of a million had been distributed nationwide.

So beyond supply chain issues and distribution problems, which are being encountered by nations across the globe, what else might account for Canada’s slow rollout? Some observers have placed the blame squarely at the foot of our federal government and Trudeau for failing to adequately invest in a homegrown vaccine solution, and instead relying on foreign suppliers.

While signing contracts and forking over millions to secure doses are not insignificant acts, human nature tells us that in the midst of a pandemic, foreign vaccine suppliers and nations will probably do what they can to fully vaccinate their own populations while largely playing the delay game with regard to their contractual export obligations.

The failure of the federal government to anticipate that eventuality while not ensuring a made-in-Canada vaccine would be a major part of the solution is now coming home to roost for the Trudeau Liberals, and corona-weary Canadians left in the lurch may not be so willing to give them another ‘X’ at the ballot box in any upcoming election.

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