Members of the National Guard help motorists check in at a federally-run COVID-19 vaccination site set up on the campus of California State University of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. A recent ramping up of the United States's vaccine rollout has it vastly outpacing its northern neighbour, and some Canadians are wondering why distribution here is lagging so far behind. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jae C. Hong

U.S. vaccine rollout vastly outpacing Canada’s: what can we learn from American push?

Canadians perusing social media may be coming across photos of their American peers bearing wide smiles and vaccination cards that show they’ve been inoculated against COVID-19.

A recent ramping up of the United States’s vaccine rollout has it vastly outpacing its northern neighbour, and some Canadians are wondering why distribution here is lagging so far behind.

Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious disease doctor in South Carolina, says that while the speed of the American rollout has been impressive lately, it’s not been without its faults.

Communication between states has been mostly lacking, she says, and the absence of a uniform standard for vaccine eligibility has led to inconsistencies across jurisdictions. Some states, for example, include teachers high on their priority list while others are still working on inoculating those 80 years and older.

Confusion in the early stages of the rollout caused frustration and dampened trust, she added. And while the shift to a new presidential administration last month has led to some improvements, Kuppalli says there’s room for more.

“I don’t think we’re the model of success,” she said in a phone interview. “We’ve had a lot of challenges. … but it’s getting better.

“Communication is better, there’s definitely greater transparency, and states have been very forthcoming in ramping up vaccine measures and rolling out mass vaccination sites. So all that’s helping.”

The U.S. was vaccinating an average of 1.7 million Americans per day this week, and had administered at least one dose to more than 12 per cent of its population as of Friday.

Canada, which recently dealt with weeks of shipping delays and disruptions from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, has doled out nearly 1.4 million doses since its rollout began mid-December, covering about 2.65 per cent of its population with at least one dose.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday vaccine delivery is set to rapidly increase, however, with provinces preparing to roll out almost a million and a half doses over the next three weeks.

The Americans have many factors in their favour when speeding up vaccine distribution, experts say, including a much more expansive supply than Canada’s that’s bolstered by production from U.S.-based Moderna.

While having supply is the first step, Kuppalli says getting those vaccines into pharmacies, where they can be easily administered, has also helped. The American government announced weeks ago its aim to supply vaccines to about 40,000 drugstores in the coming months.

Canada has not yet reached the pharmacy stage of its vaccine rollout, but Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease expert with the University of Toronto, expects that to happen once we have enough supply to branch out.

“We have the exact same plan, we just need the critical mass of vaccines,” said Bogoch, who’s also on Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force. “When we get that, you’re gonna see from coast to coast vaccines offered at many different settings.”

While pharmacy distribution makes sense for a quick rollout, it also can lead to problems with wasted doses if people aren’t showing up for their appointments, says Kelly Grindrod, a professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy.

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines need to used within a relatively short timeframe after they’re thawed from ultra-cold storage temperatures, Grindrod says, and once a vial has been punctured, that interval decreases further.

She says Canada has been learning from wastage setbacks other countries are experiencing, and she expects Plan B lists to be compiled of individuals who can quickly fill in when no-shows arise.

Those lists have to be made fairly though, she cautions.

“You have to make sure there’s no queue-jumping. So it’s not your friend coming in, it’s actually people who would fall normally on the next round of priority.”

Grindrod says queue-jumping — where people with lower risk of contracting the virus or experiencing a bad COVID outcome are vaccinated before higher-priority groups — has been more culturally unacceptable in Canada than it has in the U.S., a country without a universal health-care system.

So there’s some justifiable outrage, she adds, when Canadians see American friends boasting about getting their jabs, especially if they’re not in high-risk populations.

“Equity is probably the most important principle of the Canadian vaccine rollout,” Grindrod said. “And I’m not sure that’s the case in the U.S.”

While the American rollout has had its faults, Grindrod admires some of the more unique approaches happening south of the border to ensure high-risk groups can get their doses.

She noted the recent role Black churches have played in co-ordinating inoculation drives among typically underserved neighbourhoods, and the pharmacists who have been driving vaccines into remote communities to inoculate those who can’t easily get to an immunization centre.

“You’re seeing really positive examples where communities themselves are helping to create effective outreach,” she said.

“So I think those are the real lessons we can learn from the U.S.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Central Alberta Freestyle Ski Club is hoping to win $50,000 through the Mackenzie Investments Top Peak contest. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta ski club trying to win $50K in online contest

A central Alberta ski club has entered a contest where it can… Continue reading

Ben King scores for the Red Deer Rebels during the third period of a Western Hockey League game against the Calgary Hitmen at the Westerner Park Centrium Saturday. (Photo by Rob Wallator/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels complete comeback to pick up first win of season

Rebels 3 Hitmen 2 (OT) The Red Deer Rebels were able to… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

Mount Pearl Senior High in Mount Pearl, N.L., remains closed on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The provincial health authority says there were 185 cases at 22 schools, including 145 infections among staff and students of one high school in Mount Pearl that was an early epicentre of the outbreak. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly
In Newfoundland and Labrador, three ingredients made for explosive COVID-19 outbreak

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — With her classes, three part-time jobs and a… Continue reading

A passenger places a tag on luggage at the departure terminal at Toronto Pearson Airport, in Mississauga, Ont., Friday, May 24, 2019. The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many recent immigrants to leave Canada and return to their countries of origin, where they have more social and familial connections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
COVID-19 pandemic prompts recent newcomers to leave Canada for their home countries

OTTAWA — The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic… Continue reading

Rail cars wait for pickup in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 23, 2014. The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian oil and gas on trains destined for the United States — a country experts fear is ill-equipped for the potential consequences. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
As debate rages over cross-border pipelines, U.S. analysts brace for more oil by rail

WASHINGTON — The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian… Continue reading

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

VICTORIA — Legal experts and a mother whose ex-partner was convicted of… Continue reading

Radio and television personality Dick Smyth is shown in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Dick Smyth, Canadian maestro of news radio commentary, dies at 86

TORONTO — Radio and television personality Dick Smyth, whose booming commentary filled… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

Most Read