Which province is winning the COVID-19 vaccine rollout race? Experts weigh in

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout kicked off in Canada in mid-December.

Since then, more than 4.7 million doses have been distributed, and at least 3 million Canadians have been vaccinated with at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 shot.

Read more:
Have COVID-19 variants pushed Canada into a third wave of the pandemic?

The federal government has repeatedly said that any Canadian who wishes to be vaccinated will be able to get both doses by September 2021.

“We will continue to work very closely with the provinces and territories,” said Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military officer overseeing the country’s vaccine distribution effort, during a news conference Thursday.

Fortin said while it’s “really hard” to draw comparisons, some provinces and territories are “more advanced than others” in their vaccine distribution.

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Earlier in March, Global News reached out to individual public health units in all 10 provinces and three territories about their vaccine rollout plans. Some of the questions were:

  • How many people are you planning to vaccinate each day?
  • When will you vaccinate the maximum number of people per day?
  • How are you communicating with the public about when they can get vaccinated and where?
  • Do you think you’ll be able to reach the federal government’s September target to inoculate everyone who wants a vaccine?

Here’s how the provinces and territories responded. Based on these responses, we asked two experts to grade and comment on the performance of each province and territory.

Some of the provinces didn’t receive grades due to incomplete answers.

ALBERTA 

Number of health units: 5 

Alberta’s health ministry told Global News it has been vaccinating almost 10,000 people on average per day most recently, but have the ability to quickly ramp up to at least 20,000 daily doses if more supply is available.

The province is currently in its Phase 2 stage and is vaccinating Albertans aged 65 and above, staff and residents of the long-term facilities as well as Indigenous communities.


Click to play video: 'Alberta aims to have 500 pharmacies delivering COVID-19 vaccines by early April'



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Alberta aims to have 500 pharmacies delivering COVID-19 vaccines by early April


Alberta aims to have 500 pharmacies delivering COVID-19 vaccines by early April

Expert comments: 

“Overall, I think Alberta, like some other prairie provinces, is really adhering to the NACI (National Advisory Committee on Immunization) guidance and just really making it very clear and efficient how they roll out the vaccine,” said Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health and University Health Network hospitals in Toronto.

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Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, said given the current supply and infrastructure, Albertans could benefit with a short-term goal for its rollout.

BRITISH COLUMBIA

Number of health units: 16

British Columbia is currently in Phase 2 of its immunization plan.

From March to mid-April, approximately 400,000 people will be immunized, including seniors aged 80 and above, Indigenous communities, hospital staff and vulnerable people who live and work in select congregated settings, according to the government’s COVID-19 immunization plan on its website.

Daily vaccination averages have fluctuated because of variations in vaccine supplies, the health ministry told Global News. Dr. Penny Ballem, executive lead for the province’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts, has said she is hopeful that everyone in B.C. who is eligible to receive a vaccine may be offered a first dose of vaccine by July.


Click to play video: 'B.C.’s front line and essential workers move to the front of the line'



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B.C.’s front line and essential workers move to the front of the line


B.C.’s front line and essential workers move to the front of the line

Expert comments: 

Besides a few hiccups with the jamming of the Interior Health’s COVID-19 vaccine phone line earlier this month, B.C.’s rollout has been “really smooth,” said Sinha.

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“I think B.C’s doing a great job overall. It gets very high marks for taking a look at the NACI guidance and really trying to follow that closely.”

Conway gave B.C a C and called its proposed plan “too general and vague”.

“The plan needs to be flexible, attending to the needs of more vulnerable inner city populations, using the vaccine to deal with outbreaks.”

“We need to stop using poor vaccine supply as an excuse to not have a positive, forward-approach,” Conway said.

MANITOBA

Number of health units: 5

Manitoba is aiming to reach its maximum target of administering 20,000 doses per day by April. It is currently at roughly 12,500 doses.

According to Dr. Joss Reimer, head of Manitoba’s vaccination task force, the best-case scenario will be May 18 for every adult in Manitoba, who wants to be vaccinated. The worst-case scenario is June 30.


Click to play video: 'Manitoba health officials add pregnant women to vaccine list'



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Manitoba health officials add pregnant women to vaccine list


Manitoba health officials add pregnant women to vaccine list

Expert comments: 

Sinha said Manitoba has been rolling out vaccines efficiently and its strategy is pretty straightforward.

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“Other than the politics and some issues of logistical thoughts and planning, overall the chief medical officer of health has created a very good vaccination strategy that’s clearly communicated, that really prioritizes risk, and I think it’s been generally well received overall – that people generally understand how their turn is going to come.” he said.

Conway gave Manitoba an A- and called its plan “ambitious, forward-looking and likely to succeed.”

NEW BRUNSWICK

Number of health units: 7

In New Brunswick, vaccine appointments for those aged 85 and older at nearly every pharmacy in the province have opened, with the first vaccinations starting on March 17, according to a government news release.

The province had not responded to questions from Global News by the time of publication.


Click to play video: 'N.B. opens up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility'



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N.B. opens up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility


N.B. opens up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility

Expert comments: 

Overall, New Brunswick has done a “pretty good job” of managing COVID-19 during the first and second wave,” Sinha said.

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But it does not have the “same urgency that we see in other provinces like Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and Alberta, to get people vaccinated,” he added.

“New Brunswick is a province where we’re not getting a huge amount of information in terms of how they’re approaching the vaccinations of their population.”

NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR

Number of health units: 4

Newfoundland & Labrador is currently in its Phase 1 of the vaccination plan, focusing on congregate living settings for seniors, health-care workers, adults 85 years of age and older and adults in remote and isolated Indigenous communities.

The province did not disclose an average number of individuals it was planning to vaccinate, saying it was contingent on vaccine supply.


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Atlantic bubble to return April 19 if COVID-19 remains under control


Atlantic bubble to return April 19 if COVID-19 remains under control

Expert comments: 

Sinha called N.L. a “mystery island” because of a lack of transparency about their vaccine rollout plans and targets.

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He said they are getting the same per capita vaccine as every other province, but it’s difficult to rate their performance.

“Frankly, I don’t see why Newfoundland cannot achieve the same kind of goals that other provinces are,” he added.

Conway said: “There is great caution and lack of commitment in the responses, which is at odds with a program that has vaccinated seven per cent of its population to date.”

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES

Number of health units: 1

All eligible residents above the age of 18 in 33 communities across the Northwest Territories have been offered the coronavirus vaccine.

The territory has a population of roughly 45,000 people.


Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Fortin says Canadian territories have ‘indicated a preference’ for non-Pfizer vaccine candidates'



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Coronavirus: Fortin says Canadian territories have ‘indicated a preference’ for non-Pfizer vaccine candidates


Coronavirus: Fortin says Canadian territories have ‘indicated a preference’ for non-Pfizer vaccine candidates – Dec 7, 2020

Expert comments:

“There’s been a really good rollout and uptake that’s been quite efficient, especially when you think about the logistical issues of getting vaccines out to really remote communities,” said Sinha.

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He said all three territories are “well ahead” in the vaccine distribution compared to the rest of Canada.

However, Conway said the NWT’s plan would be more reassuring if more details were given. He gave the territory a B.

NOVA SCOTIA

Number of health units :1 

Nova Scotia is aiming to give all eligible and willing residents their first doses by the end of June 2021.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority told Global News it was on track to immunize 75 per cent of Nova Scotians by the end of September.


Click to play video: 'N.S. moves homeless population up priority line for COVID-19 vaccines'



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N.S. moves homeless population up priority line for COVID-19 vaccines


N.S. moves homeless population up priority line for COVID-19 vaccines

Expert comments: 

Sinha said Nova Scotia is not administering vaccines as rapidly as other provinces.

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“They certainly aren’t, in my view, approaching their vaccination strategy with maybe the same zeal as other jurisdictions,” he said.

With only 17 active COVID-19 cases as of Mar. 19, Sinha also noted that the province “don’t have the same pressure that other jurisdictions have at the moment.”

Conway gave the worst grade to Nova Scotia: D. He said although the province ranks low in terms of people vaccinated, he anticipates it will do better than the 75 per cent target for the end of September.

NUNAVUT

Number of health units: 1

Nunavut has received its full allotment – 37,500 doses – of the Moderna vaccine from the federal government to vaccinate 75 per cent of adults aged 18 and above in the territory.

Nunavut’s department of health told Global News that by the end of April, all communities would have completed mass vaccination clinics for the first and second dose.


Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Nunavut premier says he’ll take vaccine once it’s his turn, wants focus on most vulnerable'



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Coronavirus: Nunavut premier says he’ll take vaccine once it’s his turn, wants focus on most vulnerable


Coronavirus: Nunavut premier says he’ll take vaccine once it’s his turn, wants focus on most vulnerable – Jan 7, 2021

Expert comments: 

Among the northern territories, Sinha says Nunavut has been like a “black box.”

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“You know they’re doing some good stuff, but you just don’t quite have a handle,” he said.

For a territory that does not have very well-developed infrastructure and resources, Nunavut is doing a “very commendable job in getting this vaccine out to communities to give people in the north a real shot of hope,” Sinha said.

Conway gave Nunavut an A for its “robust approach to ensure that both vaccine doses are received in a way that is consistent with optimal clinical practice.”

ONTARIO

Number of health units: 34

The largest province of Ontario is still in its first phase of the rollout plan.

The government says its COVID-19 vaccination rollout is ahead of schedule and will therefore begin the inoculation of residents aged 75 and over beginning Monday.

A pilot program offering vaccines in some pharmacies is also expanding, and will now offer the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot to anyone aged 60 and older.

Most public health units are confident they will be able to meet the federal government’s September target, but say that will be dependent on vaccine supply.


Click to play video: 'Ontario to expand pharmacy pilot project to people aged 60 and older'



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Ontario to expand pharmacy pilot project to people aged 60 and older


Ontario to expand pharmacy pilot project to people aged 60 and older

Expert comments: 

Ontario has struggled with its vaccine rollout, according to Sinha.

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“Ontario’s really had a very scattered approach, and it’s an approach that’s been marred by a changing overall strategy at the central level, but then also trying to deploy things at the level of 34 different public health units.”

He said the distribution of doses has not been equal and the province’s infrastructure will be put to the test in the coming weeks and months when an influx of millions of vaccine doses is expected.

Conway gave Ontario a B grade.

“A strong regional and provincial effort to reassure us, for the most part, that this will be done by the fall. When vaccine supply appears, there is a clear plan to use it,” he said.

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

Number of health units: 1

Prince Edward Island is currently vaccinating individuals living in congregate settings, such as shelters and group homes, adults in Indigenous communities, rotational workers, truck drivers, health-care workers, those aged 80 years and older and one partner in care.

Starting Monday, individuals ages 70 to 74 can begin booking their vaccination appointments, according to a government news release.

Read more:
P.E.I. is vaccinating its first priority groups. Here’s where its rollout stands

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According to Heather Morrison, P.E.I.’s chief public health officer, the province is on track to meet the target of immunizing over 80 per cent of the eligible population over the age of 16 with at least one dose of the vaccine, by the end of June.

Expert comments: 

Sinha gave top marks to P.E.I., and said it has “one of the best vaccination rollouts” of the Atlantic provinces.

“They’ve been using a very clear age, first priority sequence and really just rolling on getting that vaccine out of fridges and into people’s arms.”

But Conway is not impressed. He called the province’s rollout plan “cautious.”

QUEBEC

Number of health units: 18

Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services told Global News at the time the province is currently receiving approximately 100,000 doses per week and is vaccinating roughly 13,360 people on average per day. As of this week, the province is vaccinating about 31,701 people per day.

It is in the process of expanding that capacity to administer approximately 500,000 doses per week.

Quebec’s goal was to vaccinate at least 75 per cent of the target audience for COVID-19 vaccination by the end of 2021. The province announced this week it plans to give a first dose to every adult who wants one no later than June 24.

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Click to play video: 'Some Quebecers refuse Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine'



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Some Quebecers refuse Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine


Some Quebecers refuse Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine

Expert comments:

“Quebec has been quite smart with its approach,” said Sinha.

“They’ve been following the science and really focusing on protecting as many people as possible. I think they’re actually going to reach their targets quicker than others.”

Conway gave Quebec a C. He said the province was “way too fearful of inadequate vaccine supply”.

SASKATCHEWAN

Number of health units: 1

Saskatchewan has entered Phase 2 of its rollout, which is focusing on vaccinating the general population from people aged 69 going down to 18.

While the province has not confirmed if they will be able to meet the federal government’s target, Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said people won’t have to wait up to four months to get their second dose if there’s increasing supply.”

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Provincial officials are optimistic about the number of vaccines scheduled to arrive in the future.


Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan launches Phase 2 of COVID-19 vaccine delivery plan'



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Saskatchewan launches Phase 2 of COVID-19 vaccine delivery plan


Saskatchewan launches Phase 2 of COVID-19 vaccine delivery plan

Expert comments: 

Saskatchewan has been following the NACI guidance, said Sinha.

They’ve already started vaccinating people 70 and older and they’re just moving on, getting the vaccine rolled out and doing it efficiently.”

Conway said the province’s plan is incomplete for failing to detail how they plan to build on what it has accomplished so far.

YUKON

Number of health units: 1

In Yukon, the vaccine campaign is based on appointments.

The territory’s capacity is to vaccinate between 850 and 1,000 people per day and it has hit its maximum capacity for several days, the Health Social Services department told Global News.

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The government anticipates having everyone who wants a vaccine to be vaccinated by the end of March or mid-April.


Click to play video: 'Canadian couple accused of vaccine queue jumping in Yukon'



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Canadian couple accused of vaccine queue jumping in Yukon


Canadian couple accused of vaccine queue jumping in Yukon – Jan 23, 2021

Expert comments:

Like the Northwest Territories, Sinha is impressed with Yukon’s rollout and its communication about the progress.

You’re hearing great stories that really remote communities, for example, they’re just getting vaccines on a plane, they’re taking it out into a community, and within hours everybody’s lined up [and] vaccinated.” 

Conway agreed and gave Yukon an A.

“The plan is specific, forward-looking, flexible and will lead to community-based immunity in the short term,” he said.

— With files from Global News’ Aya Al-Hakim, Elisha Dacey, Kalina Laframboise, Kelly Skjerven, Jon Azpiri and Nick Westoll

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