I was feeling vaguely guilty this week when heading out to a sports complex in suburban Ottawa for my vaccination. As I write this, only 19 percent of Canadians have shared my experience and just before my vaccine day arrived, tens of thousands of vaccination appointments in Manitoba and Ontario were canceled.
My appointment was also during the same week in which there were frightening and discouraging news related to the pandemic and the vaccines that promise to beat it back. Canada set a record for new daily cases, and there is at least one projection forecast that much worse is to come.
In a symbolic moment, Canada pulled slightly ahead of the United States in average daily new cases per capita. Moderna cut deliveries of its vaccine to Canada and other countries while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has yet to arrive in Canada, has come under safety scrutiny.
Emergency rooms in many parts of the country, particularly Ontario, are reaching their breaking points, as are intensive care units. In a bid to ease some of the strain, children’s hospitals in both Ottawa and Toronto opened their I.C.U. beds to adults.
The numbers are terrible. By Friday, Canada’s seven-day average of new daily cases was 8,600; hospitalizations were up by 22 percent; I.C.U. admissions rose by 34 percent; and each day, 41 people died from Covid-19, a 38 percent increase from the previous week.
Many factors are behind the increasing numbers. Among them is the arrival of more infectious variants of the virus. An outbreak of P.1, the variant first found in Brazil, spread from Whistler throughout British Columbia and then into Alberta. Manitoba discovered its first case of the variant this week. In Ontario, the B.1.1.7 variant that initially appeared in Britain is the worry; the province may be facing a devastating 10,000 daily new cases, according to a projection released on Friday.
But behavior also plays a role. Numbers may be up in Atlantic Canada, but because the region has maintained the tightest pandemic restrictions in the country, it is now escaping the level of outbreak seen in Ontario and elsewhere.
After an Ontario scientific advisory council presented its grim forecast on Friday, the province’s premier, Doug Ford, said he was closing the borders with Manitoba and Quebec, shuttering playgrounds, golf courses, basketball courts and other outdoor sports facilities, with a variety of other measures. The police have also been empowered to stop and question people to determine whether their trips outside home are essential.
“I know you are all sick and tired of Covid-19,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday as he urged Canadians to follow their provinces’ rules. “We all just want to be done with this.”
The week’s vaccines news was more mixed. Those canceled vaccination appointments that made me feel guilty were caused by shipment delays from Moderna’s plants in Switzerland and Spain. That situation became worse on Friday. The federal government said that because of labor and material shortages, Moderna would short an upcoming shipment of 1.2 million doses by 650,000.
Earlier in the week, the United States paused the use of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine over concerns that it might be linked to a rare but serious blood-clotting disorder. Canada is expecting its first shipment of that vaccine — 300,000 doses — on April 27.
My colleagues Denise Grady and Carl Zimmer examined the blood-clotting risk potentially posed by that vaccine as well as the AstraZeneca vaccine. Their bottom line: If there is a risk, it’s low.
But perhaps offsetting all that is Mr. Trudeau’s announcement that Pfizer will sell Canada an additional eight million doses of the vaccine it has developed with BioNTech, half of which will arrive next month, and all of which will arrive by the end of July. The company will also be sending earlier purchases sooner. All that may mean that all Canadian adults will have received at least one shot by July, the prime minister said.
I booked my vaccine appointment the first day that Ontario expanded vaccination eligibility to people over age 60. So did a lot of other people. So it took me three tries, the last involving some patient online observation of a stick figure strolling along an on-screen progress bar.
But the process itself was remarkably smooth. Like many things in the pandemic, there was some do-it-yourself initiatives on display at the Ottawa Public Health clinic, where I had my shot. Signs directing traffic for those getting the vaccine were handwritten with marker and some made ample use of colored duct tape.
- On April 13, 2021, U.S. health agencies called for an immediate pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose Covid-19 vaccine after six recipients in the United States developed a rare disorder involving blood clots within one to three weeks of vaccination.
- All 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico temporarily halted or recommended providers pause the use of the vaccine. The U.S. military, federally run vaccination sites and a host of private companies, including CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart and Publix, also paused the injections.
- Fewer than one in a million Johnson & Johnson vaccinations are now under investigation. If there is indeed a risk of blood clots from the vaccine — which has yet to be determined — that risk is extremely low. The risk of getting Covid-19 in the United States is far higher.
- The pause could complicate the nation’s vaccination efforts at a time when many states are confronting a surge in new cases and seeking to address vaccine hesitancy.
- Johnson & Johnson has also decided to delay the rollout of its vaccine in Europe amid concerns over rare blood clots, dealing another blow to Europe’s inoculation push. South Africa, devastated by a more contagious virus variant that emerged there, suspended use of the vaccine as well. Australia announced it would not purchase any doses.
As I pulled into a parking lot, a man in an orange vest told me to stay in the car until my appointment time was announced over a very loud loudspeaker to avoid people congregating. After passing through two screenings by people who remained welcoming, despite having to endlessly ask the same questions, and a registration check in, I received a shot four minutes after my scheduled appointment time. It was injected by someone more than qualified for the task: an orthopedic surgeon.
Canada’s decision to get at least one shot into as many people as possible means that I’m not scheduled for a second dose until August.
As many Canadians look at vaccination rates in Britain and the United States, their frustration has been growing. Right now, just 2 percent of Canadians are fully vaccinated compared with 24 percent of Americans. But the scheduled increases in vaccine shipments — the Moderna slip up aside — should help Canada catch up slightly over the next few weeks.
If so, it will also be a relief to the medical world. After he released the projections compiled by Ontario’s table of science experts on Friday, which indicated cases could hit 30,000 a day if nothing is done, Adalsteinn Brown, the dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, said, “More vaccination, more vaccination, more vaccination.”
Catherine Porter has profiled Khaleel Seivwright who is locked in a battle with the city of Toronto after he and a group of volunteers built 100 tiny shelters for homeless people to get though the winter. He now has an even bigger plan.
Geneva Abdul, a Times colleague now based in London and former member of Canada’s national soccer team, wrote about the confidence that playing the sport gave her.
An exhaustive review found that anti-gay bias by Toronto police helped allow a serial killer to prey on the city’s gay community.
William Amos, a Liberal member of Parliament from Quebec, stripped down after a jog while not realizing that his computer’s camera was on and broadcasting to his fellow lawmakers in a virtual meeting. Now some people are asking who leaked the photo of Mr. Amos standing nude to the public.
A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.
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