Canada 'within reach' of vaccinating 80 per cent of those eligible, but uptake is slowing: Dr. Tam

Canada is “within reach” of fully vaccinating 80 per cent of those currently eligible against COVID-19 if momentum is kept up, but federal public health officials are cautioning that uptake is starting to slow.

As of midday Thursday, more than 41 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Canada, seeing more than 26 million people, or 77.9 per cent of those eligible, receive at least one dose and 15 million people, or 44.8 per cent of those ages 12 and older, fully vaccinated.

“This is great progress and the benefits are mounting… It has taken a lot of effort to get where we are today, but we should not assume we have crossed the finish line,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam on Thursday. “While Canadians are steadily coming forward for second doses, the rate of increase for first doses has slowed.”

As Tam noted, with the focus on seeing all those who received their first shots going back for their second, the number of Canadians who are showing up for their first shots is currently increasing at slower pace.

Tam said that in order to get and stay ahead of more highly transmissible variants such as the Delta and Lambda strains of COVID-19 when Canadians head back indoors over the fall and winter, the country needs to reach “the highest possible vaccine coverage as quickly as possible.”

National modelling released two weeks ago indicated that while there has been a “sustained national decline” in COVID-19 spread across the country, the threat of variants continues to pose a real risk, and so “sustained control efforts” will be needed in order to avoid a resurgence until vaccination coverage is high across the population.

Asked where the lower uptake in COVID-19 vaccines is being seen demographically, Tam said that those who appear to be less eager to “offer their arm” are young people, marginalized populations, and in certain smaller communities across the country.

She said that reaching those who are unvaccinated is a priority across levels of governments and public health authorities.

“It is a matter of empowering trusted voices and community leadership, as well as private and public sector collaboration as well... And so I think that there's no simple answer,” Tam said.

Across Canada a range of both direct and indirect attempts to incentivize Canadians to get the jab have been deployed, from Alberta’s vaccine lottery, to the federal government easing up on quarantine restrictions for those who are double dosed and looking to travel abroad.

Earlier this week Health Minister Patty Hajdu announced funding for three new initiatives aimed at boosting vaccine uptake in key populations. The projects included targeting educational outreach for health care providers with Indigenous clients, and building vaccine confidence among personal support workers and home care practitioners.

“It's not about blaming and shaming. It's about finding ways to hit them where they are in terms of what they're looking for… We hope to give the right messages so that they understand and appreciate why it's important to get vaccinated not just for themselves, but also for their family and friends,” said Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo.

In an interview on CTV News Channel, infectious diseases expert Dr. Dale Kalina said that encouraging those who are still hesitant may be the most challenging part of the mass vaccination effort.

“That last mile is going to be the most difficult,” he said, echoing that work needs to continue to address what outstanding concerns are keeping these people from making vaccine appointments.

RECEIVING '100 PER CENT' OF SHOTS NEEDED SOON

The federal government is on track to receive and distribute enough COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of the month to fully vaccinate all who are eligible, and already many provinces have accelerated the timeline for offering second shots to their citizens.

With Canada’s contracts including millions more doses slated to keep arriving over the summer and into the fall, vaccine rollout lead Brig. Gen. Krista Brodie said Thursday that the National Operations Centre—which has been the main logistics hub for the mass vaccination effort— has begun holding a “central inventory” of vaccines as the vaccination landscape shifts.

“We will also manage a strategic vaccine supply at the federal level in order to address emerging demands from the provinces in the months ahead. This will ensure we have sufficient stock at hand to counter surges of infections due to variants of concern, and to address newly eligible populations,” Brodie said.