Canada closing in on US’ COVID-19 vaccination rate

Despite the U.S. rolling out COVID-19 vaccines quicker, Canada is now catching up and closing in on the percentage of fully vaccinated residents. 

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, more than 16 million Canadians are now fully vaccinated, representing 43.74% of the country’s total population.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 168 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, which is 48.4% of the country’s total population. 

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On December 14, 2020, the two countries administered their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse in New York City, received the first shot at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens. That same day, five front-line workers in Ontario were among the first Canadians to receive the vaccine at one of Toronto’s hospitals.

However, Canada soon ran into challenges in getting more shipments. Initial supply chain difficulties forced Canada to extend the time between the first shot and the second by up to four months so that everyone can be protected faster with the primary dose. Canada has lagged on vaccinating its population because it lacks the ability to manufacture the vaccine and has had to rely on the global supply chain for the lifesaving shots, like many other countries.

But the country’s current vaccination rate continues to accelerate while efforts in the U.S. have stalled.

In the U.S., the vaccination rate seemed to have peaked in April when the country was averaging more than 3 million administered shots a week. Today, the country averages more than 400,000 administered shots a week with the number continuing to trend downward. 

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U.S. health officials worry the lag in vaccinations could hinder progress in ending the pandemic.

Cases of COVID-19 have tripled in the U.S. over the past three weeks, and hospitalizations and deaths are rising among unvaccinated people. While the rates are still sharply down from their January highs, officials are concerned by the reversing trends and what they consider needless illness and death. And cases are expected to continue to rise in the coming weeks.

While the national emergency may have faded, officials say the outbreak is now a more localized crisis in communities where not enough people have rolled up their sleeves.

"Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated," President Joe Biden said Friday, echoing comments made earlier in the day by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 99% of COVID-19 deaths and 97% of hospitalizations are among people who have not been vaccinated, according to the CDC.

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Some communities are acting. Los Angeles County on Thursday reinstituted its requirement that masks be worn in most indoor settings regardless of vaccination status, and health officials in Las Vegas recommended on Friday that workers and patrons in the tourism hotspot wear face coverings while inside.

In recent days, the administration has turned its focus to younger Americans. It enlisted pop star Olivia Rodrigo for a day-long White House visit Wednesday with Biden and top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci that was heavily documented for social media. Younger people are at the lowest risk of adverse outcomes from the virus and have proven to be among the least likely to get vaccinated.

But another huge group has proven to be an even more vexing challenge: Republicans. The White House has long acknowledged that, given rampant disinformation about the vaccines and the nation’s partisan divides, it would have little success convincing the GOP to get on board. Instead, administration officials have amped up criticism in recent days of public officials and social media companies for spreading or not condemning vaccine misinformation spreading among the GOP.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.