Experts say Canada’s demand for COVID-19 vaccines is falling slowly, and they warn that those who wait to see if cases rise before receiving their vaccines are wasting the time the body needs to build up enough immunity.
Less than one percent of Canadians have been vaccinated daily over the past week, down from the record daily rate of 1.44 at the end of June, According to Our World in Data, which is supported by a research team based at the University of Oxford.
A vaccine tracker devised by a University of Saskatchewan student also showed that the average daily first dose has fallen to less than 40,000 from about 96,000 last month.
A decline is expected, with 80 percent of the eligible population already having at least one dose and nearly 60 percent fully vaccinated.
Canada’s vaccine uptake and rate of vaccination remain among the highest in the world – France vaccinates 0.92 percent of its population daily while the UK immunizes at 0.34.
Worried about the spread
But Kelly Grindrud, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Waterloo, says the rate of slowdown is worrying, and the spread of new variables means that more Canadians need full protection to mitigate future outbreaks.
Grindrud pointed to countries that consume large amounts of vaccines, including the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, which are experiencing new waves of infection, largely infecting the unvaccinated population.
“We are in a very difficult stage of apathy, where people don’t think they are in danger,” Grindrud said. “But … there is a real concern that if you wait until the numbers are up to get vaccinated, it is too late.”
Watch | Experts say Canada needs to ramp up COVID-19 vaccines:
Some Canadians warn against taking Moderna dosesجرعات
Grindrod said some of the slowdown may have to do with people delaying second doses when they were introduced to a Moderna dose, preferring to wait for Pfizer-BioNTech instead.
Even waiting a few days delays protection, Grindrud said, because immune systems require two weeks after a second dose to build up optimal levels of antibodies. Anyone still waiting for their first hit injection will have to wait another four weeks to get their second dose, putting themselves at an even greater disadvantage.
She said the concern about mixing up the Pfizer and Moderna footage appears to be prompting some hesitation. Although experts have repeatedly said that the two mRNA snapshots are interchangeable, there is still confusion.
Mixing of mRNA vaccines became more prevalent in Canada last month, when delays in Pfizer’s shipments coincided with an influx of Moderna doses.
Toronto-based pharmacist Kiero Masse said he and his colleagues are having difficulty transporting Moderna vaccines, and fears Pfizer’s preference will lead to significant amounts of waste.
“I’m about to get rid of 350 doses of Moderna,” he said. Another country will gladly take that off our hands.”
Part of the problem, Christ said, is that each Moderna vial contains 14 doses, compared to Pfizer’s six. Once the vial has been punctured, its contents must be used within 24 hours. Vials thawed from freezing temperature should be used within a month.
The problem, he said, is not that Canada is receiving so many doses now, but that messages about mixing vaccines have hit snags in recent days.
Last week, a World Health Organization official warned individuals seeking different vaccines themselves for the third or fourth doses, a quote taken out of context to indicate that mixing doses was not advised.
Grindrud said colleagues reported seeing people reading and sharing the story while standing in line at a mass vaccination clinic in Cambridge, Ontario, and then walking out.
Concerns about international travel
Travel concerns can also be a factor.
Grindrud said last week’s story about Barbados not recognizing Canada’s mixed-dose strategy has drawn more hesitation, even though the Caribbean country quickly reversed its policy.
Norwegian Cruise Line said on its website that ships sailing and disembarking from US ports will not accept mixed vaccination, although ships from non-US ports will accept it.
“It doesn’t take many people to delay[their second dose]and that’s a real concern,” Grindrud said. “People are thinking far into the future about travel, and that’s another way of saying they don’t think they’re in danger now.”
Refuting negative perceptions of mixed doses can be difficult once they take root, said Celia Doe, a science communications specialist in Toronto.
She said experts can get bogged down in scientific language and lose people’s attention, so it’s often quick and simple headlines — even if misleading — that people tend to remember.
“Finding ways to keep the truth short and sweet is always a good strategy,” she said.
Christ said that people who are delaying vaccination now, as restrictions are lifted and travel resumes, are risking exposure at a time when COVID-19 may soon rise.
He also said that the lack of vaccines in other parts of the world is worrying. And while Canada is doing well to keep COVID-19 at bay now, Massey said the threat of new variants evolving and spreading could cause problems.
“By taking the good vaccines and tossing them in the trash, you’re shooting yourself in the foot on the road.”