All hope for an end to lockdowns and the beginning of recovery are tied to a COVID- 19 vaccine. Yet with respect to when, where and how that vaccine will be rolled out; Canadians are left completely in the dark – and time is of the essence.
Every day more people are being infected with COVID-19 and tragically more will lose their lives to the virus. Each day the burden of financial hardship becomes heavier as many are left without jobs, and businesses face a greater risk of bankruptcy. As hope diminishes the longer the uncertainty persists and the stress of this pandemic takes its toll; drug overdoses, suicides, domestic abuse, and mental health challenges drastically rise.
The Liberal government has established contracts with access to enough vaccine doses to meet Canada’s need. What they have not done is outlined who, when, what, where and how the vaccine will get to Canadians. Worse still they are attempting to downplay the severity that Canada’s lack of a plan implies. As a former military logistician, I cannot overemphasize that the approval, prioritization, storage, transportation and security of the vaccine distribution is a highly complex and challenging task. A task that will require comprehensive planning, organization and oversight and one that must not to be underestimated.
Each of the proposed vaccines requires two doses, separated by approximately 28 days. These vaccines require ultra-cold storage conditions and while Canada has procured deep freezers, many have yet to be delivered as these are in high demand. Despite an investment of over $56M to develop the capability, Canada does not and will not in the foreseeable future have the capacity to manufacture these vaccines. Even if Canada had the capacity to manufacture, the contracts that Canada signed with the vaccine providers doesn’t include the permission to do so. Canada will receive very limited doses and shipments will be delayed until other countries including US, UK, Germany, Japan, and Australia have addressed the need of their own populations.
The US initiated “Operation Warp Speed” over 6 months ago with a four-star logistics general in charge. The US has contracted and reconfigured airplanes and trucks to distribute the vaccine. They have worked with state and local authorities to identify priorities, quantities, and timelines for delivery. They have armed escorts and security tracking and tracing applications in place to protect shipments and prevent vaccine counterfeits. The US will have 50 million doses available to vaccinate 25million people, by Jan 2021 and 30 million doses each month after that. Furthermore, the US has published their vaccine distribution plan so all Americans can plan accordingly.
The UK has also responded with foresight and rigour, with the UK’s Health Secretary calling the COVID-19 vaccine distribution “one of the biggest civilian projects in history”. The UK intends to have completed vaccination of their most vulnerable and be ready to move to the rest of the population by end of Jan 2021. Their plan will vaccinate 4-5 million people a week completing their entire population of 66 million by April 2021. The UK has also published their plan, including a schedule and priority groups so citizens knows when they can to expect to have access to the vaccine.
In Canada, there is no national plan. The appointment of MGen Fortin is a start but it is late to need. The Prime Minister has said that most of Canada’s population could be vaccinated by end of September 2021, but without any information for the ten months between Dec 2020 and Sept 2021 it’s impossible to trust the accuracy of that statement.
The sense of urgency for the development and public distribution of a Canadian vaccine plan is not only to save lives, as Canada is also in a race to save the country’s future prosperity. We must be able to fully reopen our economy at the same time as our commercial partners and competitors or we risk being left behind.
The saying goes “Time spent in planning is time saved.” While a COVID-19 vaccine may not yet be available, the value of being ready when it is will be measured in deaths prevented and livelihoods saved. The government has had months to plan and prepare but instead they have failed to act leaving Canada woefully behind. Canada needs a comprehensive vaccine distribution plan and we need it now!