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

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 2,271 new COVID-19 cases, Red Deer cases rise slightly

Across Alberta, there are 666 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 146 in the ICU

Alberta Health Services locked the Whistle Stop Cafe at Mirror on Wednesday morning after owner Christopher Scott refused to comply with health orders.
Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff
AHS shuts down Whistle Stop Cafe for defying health orders

Health inspectors and RCMP locked doors early Wednesday

Premier Jason Kenney (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Chedda’ Heads Grilled Cheese Truck owner Dawson Strome and truck manager Allison Dolan look out from the service window on the truck. (File Photo)
Sylvan Lake’s Food Truck Thursdays expected to return with some changes

The Town is amending the Mobile Vending and Busking Bylaw which has a few changes for the event

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is seen at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. An Alberta woman in her 50s has died from a rare blood clot disorder after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Alberta confirms blood clot disorder death linked to AstraZeneca vaccine

Both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been linked to VITT in a very small number of cases

FILE - In this March 3, 2021, file photo, a vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is displayed at South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine can be given to adults 30+ who can’t wait for mRNA: NACI

Panel says single shot vaccine can be especially useful for populations unable to return for second shot

A wild rabbit grazes in Nanaimo, B.C. in this Feb.2, 2018 photo. Rabbit owners in Alberta are being warned about a deadly virus that was identified in a southern Alberta household last month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dirk Meissner
‘Like a flash fire:’ Rabbit owners warned about outbreak of deadly disease in Alberta

The disease is confined to rabbits and cannot spread to humans

A lady wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada may find it challenging to reach herd immunity from COVID-19, experts say

Level of immunity among the population changes with the variants, especially the more transmissible strains

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

A dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination is prepared at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine approved for kids 12 to 15 years old in Canada

The vaccine was previously authorized for anyone at least 16 years of age or older

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to speakers appearing by video during a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday May 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada will align policy on ‘vaccine passports’ with international allies: Trudeau

Trudeau says Canadians could begin travelling outside the country again by summer

Ranging from 11 to 20 in age and representing seven provinces and one territory, the plaintiffs are appealing a Supreme Court judge’s decision to dismiss their lawsuit last fall. (David Suzuki Foundation)
15 youths not backing down in their fight to sue Ottawa over climate change inaction

The group has filed an appeal after their lawsuit was struck down by a Federal Court judge last fall

A 2021 census questionnaire. (Black Press Media file photo)
2021 census responses due May 11

By law, every household must complete a census questionnaire

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi attends a senior’s home in Calgary on Tuesday, April 14, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Nenshi says he’s frustrated to hear that tickets given to people for breaching COVID-19 public health orders are being thrown out in the courts.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘Incredibly frustrating:’ Calgary mayor wants courts to uphold COVID-19 measures

Large groups without masks have been gathering in Calgary public spaces in protest of health measures

Most Read