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

The rocks are painted and then hidden around town. Those who find them can keep them, leave them where they are or hide them elsewhere. (Submitted)
Spreading love and kindness in Nakusp

New group launched to nurture rock painting and hunting community

The Okanagan Regional Library is holding a pair of online contests for its young readers. (File photo)
Okanagan Regional Library challenges young readers

Pair of contests online aimed at kids aged up to 18

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

Interior Health reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 and two new death in the region Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
79 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths reported in Interior Health

Both of Friday’s deaths were both recorded at long-term care homes

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

Auldin Maxwell stacks the 693rd block on the top of record-breaking Jenga tower on Nov. 29. (Submitted)
Salmon Arm boy rests world-record attempt on single Jenga brick

Auldin Maxwell, 12, is now officially a Guinness world record holder.

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

A Dodge Ram pickup similar to this one was involved in a hit-and-run in Lake Country on Saturday, Jan. 16. (Crime Stoppers photo)
Stolen truck involved in Okanagan hit-and-run

Incident happened on Highway 97 in Lake Country just before 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Kelowna Fire Department. (FILE)
Early morning downtown Kelowna dumpster fire deemed suspicious

RCMP and the Kelowna Fire Department will conduct investigations into the cause of the blaze

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Most Read