Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listen to Major General Dany Fortin respond to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listen to Major General Dany Fortin respond to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Who should get Canada’s first COVID vaccines — the most vulnerable or superspreaders?

Up to 249,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine will arrive on Canadian soil by the end of the month

Initial doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are set to roll into the country in the next few weeks, and Canadians will be wondering where they stand in the inoculation line.

Which segment of the population will get the first doses, once Canada approves them for use, and how long will it take before most of us are inoculated and we can reach that point of herd immunity?

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has already recommended early doses be given to: residents and staff of long-term care homes; adults 70 years or older (starting with those 80 and over); front-line health-care workers; and adults in Indigenous communities — but there’s still some debate among experts on whether that’s the best strategy for a vaccine rollout.

Dr. Ross Upshur of the University of Toronto’s School of Public Health, agrees with NACI’s recommendations, but he says there’s also an argument to be made for vaccinating those more likely to spread the virus first — including people with jobs in the community that can’t work from home.

“There is quite a vigorous debate and … quite a varied set of arguments about who should go first and the priority list,” Upshur said. “And that’s because people have very deep and different intuitions about what fairness means, and which fundamental values should illuminate the distribution of scarce resources.”

Upshur says prioritization, which will fall to the provinces and territories to determine, will depend on the goal of the vaccination strategy.

If the main objective is to ensure economic recovery by limiting community spread, essential workers might get vaccinated first, Upshur explained.

But if the goal is to limit deaths by preventing our most vulnerable populations from getting COVID, older people, especially those in long-term care, should jump to the front of the line.

“Each one of those aims leads to favouring a different kind of population,” he said. “So priority-setting is a complex task.

“But because there’s going to be a limited number of doses available, choices will have to be made soon.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that up to 249,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine will arrive on Canadian soil by the end of the month, with the first doses delivered next week.

Canada, which is currently reviewing several vaccine candidates, has purchased 20 million doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine, and is set to receive four million doses — enough to inoculate two million people — by March.

READ MORE: First Pfizer vaccine shots to be given right at delivery sites, not LTC homes

Kelly Grindrod, a researcher and associate professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy, says the concept of prioritizing the COVID vaccine may be hard for some to grasp.

Grindrod agrees with NACI’s recommendations of where the first stage of vaccine distribution should go, but subsequent stages of rollout become trickier.

Certain individuals may perceive themselves to be in a higher-risk group and therefore more deserving of a vaccine than others, she said, and it will be hard to determine for example, if a 50-year-old with asthma who works from home should be vaccinated over a taxi driver.

“What I always say is: if you don’t know anybody who’s gotten the virus, you’re probably one of the last to get the vaccine,” Grindrod said. “So that might mean you have a middle-class income and you don’t work in a factory or a grocery store.

“If you’re feeling like COVID is something that’s not really in your world, that’s probably a suggestion that you’re fairly low-risk for getting the virus in the first place.”

Grindrod says it’s important to remember that immunizing the majority of Canadians will take a long time.

The first stage alone could take months, she said, estimating that Canada will be able to vaccinate roughly three million people (in a country of 38 million) in the first quarter of 2021.

“If we’re all vaccinated by next Christmas, we will have done a great job,” she said.

READ MORE: Trump, 0 for 2 on tapping Canada’s health resources, may try again with COVID vaccine

Upshur agrees that getting to herd immunity will take time, but having multiple vaccine candidates reporting high efficacy rates should speed up that process — at least in theory.

“As exciting as it is to have these studies showing really good results, there’s still a lot more questions,” he said. “There’s a lot more that needs to be done before we can be sure that these vaccines are going to achieve the goals that we hope.”

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusvaccines

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

Just Posted

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Coastal GasLink begins COVID screening of pipeline workers

Construction is once again ramping up following Northern Health approval of COVID management plan

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

(Black Press file photo)
Charges laid against two suspects in pre-Christmas home invasion

An 88-year-old woman was hospitalized after being bear-sprayed in the face Dec. 18, 2020

Liam and Tyler Spaans, (L-R), are two of the current lifeguards at the Houston Leisure Facility. (Houston Leisure Services file photo)
Leisure facility anticipates need for lifeguards

Has been challenged in the past

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Most Read