Three months ago, as discussed here the media and political worlds were in a flap about Canada’s snail’s-pace COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Some claimed that we were well back in the pack, with as many as 51 other countries vaccinating at a faster rate. At best, according to the oft-cited Our World In Data, Canada was 17th, well behind leading countries Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. and the UK.

Particular umbrage was taken about the fact Canada trailed such unlikely places as Chile, Serbia, Romania, Poland and Morocco. And among rich countries, self-identified as the G7, Canada was second from the bottom.

But as I pointed out, despite the gnashing of teeth over our vaccination performance, in terms of case numbers and deaths Canada was not as hard hit as most of the countries higher in the vaccination standings.

For example, according to Worldometer, which lays out COVID-19 deaths, cases and active cases per million population for over 200 countries, of the countries doing better at immunization, only Morocco had fewer total cases and active cases per million of COVID-19 than Canada. And Canada’s rate of 570 deaths per million was less than one-third that of the U.K., 63 per cent below that of the U.S. and except for Japan, by far the lowest in the G7.

Over the last three months it has become a good-news, bad news story for Canada. As has been widely reported, we’ve pulled up our socks and rolled up our sleeves on the vaccination rate. We’ve moved ahead of some of the less-favored countries like Romania, Poland and Morocco that were ahead of us back in February. And among the cool kids in the G7, we’ve moved into a solid third spot. In terms of “vaccine doses administered per 100 people” Canada’s score of 58 has moved ahead of Germany (57 per 100), Italy 54 and France 50.

The bad news comes in a couple of dimensions. For one thing, although Canada’s case and death rates remain far lower than the G7 average, case rates since February increased by more than 60 per cent, which is faster than any G7 country but Japan.

Table 1:Change in total cases per million G7 countries

Feb.22 M. 24 % change
Canada 22,033 35,746 62.2%
US 85,759 101,929 18.9%
UK 59,949 65,464 9.2%
France 54,106 85,714 58.4%
Italy 45,781 69,468 51.7%
Germany 28,213 43,559 54.4%
Japan 3,363  5,699 69.5%

Source: Worldometer

Most of the increase in cases came in April as some provinces responded to the third wave with measures that were too little and too late. And although Canada’s average daily case rates have been falling in recent weeks from an average of 231 per million a day the week of April 11 to 18, they remained second highest in the G7 last week at 115 per million a day. Only France was higher while the U.S. daily average for the week was only 78 per million.

Poorer counties excluded

The main reason to hold the applause exists beyond the affluent confines of the G7 countries, the result of what the head of the World Health Organization describe as a “scandalous inequity” in the distribution of vaccines. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, pointing out that three quarters of the world’s vaccines have been administered in just 10 countries, criticized wealthy countries for rolling up the numbers by vaccinating lower-risk groups while most of the rest of the world lacks access to vaccines for front-line health workers and the elderly .

In Africa, where according to Statista there have been some 130,000 deaths from COVID-19, less than two per cent of the population has received a single dose. South Africa has been hit hard with 56,000 deaths, but according to the world vaccination tracker compiled by the New York Times only 1.2 per cent of the country’s population has received a shot. Morocco, with 22 per cent of its population vaccinated, is a clear outlier on the African continent. Among the five most populous African countries, the “leader” is Egypt, with just 1.6 per cent of its people with at least one dose of vaccine.

Africa’s plight seemed remote from the minds of Canada’s parliamentarians this week when the House of Commons voted unanimously to table a document based on data from by Our World in Data showing, in the words of the presenting MP, “that Canada is now only second to the United Kingdom as it relates to first doses that have been administered throughout the G20.”

“First doses” is different from “vaccine doses administered” but it’s a metric favored by those who see vaccination as international competition, with the U.S. our main competitor. By the latter definition, counting first and second doses, there are 16 non-G20 countries ahead of Canada, as well as G20 members, the U.K. and the United States. But as the table shows, if only first doses are counted, Canada moves ahead of the U.S.

Table 2: Vaccination rates for selected countries

Country Total per 100 One dose Fully vaccinated
Israel 117 60 57
U.K. 93 57 35
U.S. 87 50 40
Canada 58 54 4.6

Source: New York Times Tracker

Tabling by a Liberal MP of the data showing we’d passed the U.S. in administering first doses was vaguely reminiscent of George W. Bush’s premature “Mission Accomplished” speech of May 2003. Bush staged a media even aboard an aircraft carrier with those words displayed on a banner behind him to announce the end of combat operations in Iraq. As it turned out, it was eight years before the last American troops left Iraq.

Before declaring any sort of victory through vaccination countries like Canada need listen to the WHO’s Ghebreyesus or leaders like Cyril Ramaphosa. As the South African president pointed out in a report this week in the Globe and Mail, billions of people in poorer countries remain vulnerable to disease and death as they wait vainly for the arrival of vaccines.

“We all need to work together to correct this,” said Ramaphosa. “This is not only a moral imperative. Effective and comprehensive global vaccination is vital to ending the pandemic. None of us can hope to be safe unless we are all safe.”