A health care worker walks through the post-vaccine waiting area at a mass COVID – vaccination clinic for Peel Region in Mississauga, Ont., On Monday, March 1, 2020. (Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press)
The peak of intensity is measured here by the highest recorded daily caseload, per capita. At the pandemic’s height in the UK, US and France, COVID – was infecting almost one person in a thousand every day. In Canada, that number never reached one in 4, .)
Canada had the least intense pandemic of the six.
Immunizations vs infections
Vaccinations are the magic bullet that will end this pandemic. Some countries have done far better than others in administering them.
The UK’s vaccination effort started strong and stayed that way. Germany and the US showed steady increases week over week. France was slow to start but soon caught up. Italy and Canada faltered and lost ground.
But vaccinations do not tell the whole story. Vaccines entered the picture as much of the western world was racing to get ahead of a new wave of infections.
Canada placed last among this group of nations in terms of doses per capita. But it also has posted the lowest per capita caseloads through 2021.
The UK was the undisputed winner of the vaccine race but posted the worst per capita caseloads and death rates of the six. And the nation with the second-best record on vaccinations – the US – had the second-worst caseloads.
Given this strange inversion, how should we measure each nation’s overall performance?
The next graph attempts to do that by dividing each nation’s total number of vaccines administered, week over week, by the number of new cases it recorded in the same week, to give an overall score – call it the “O Factor” – that may offer a clearer picture of how much progress each country has made so far in 2020.
The O Factor penalizes countries for failing to control infections in the present, but gives credit for the future caseload reductions they can expect to achieve by getting needles in arms now.
The damage to economies
Historians will one day study the pandemic’s social and economic effects. Some of those effects aren’t clear yet.
By killing a vast number of European peasants, the Black Death transformed the labor market, allowing workers to demand more for their work and ultimately helping to free them from feudalism. Perhaps this (far less apocalyptic) pandemic will free workers from the bondage of commuting and cubicles.
Whatever changes it leaves in its wake, it’s clear the economic blow of the pandemic has not fallen evenly on all nations.
The six countries we’re comparing here have taken different approaches to pandemic-related shutdowns and layoffs. Some (such as Canada) went big on public spending, while others held back. And some countries will struggle more than others with the debts they have accumulated.
All six of the nations measured here saw nearly unprecedented spikes in the number of unemployment claims as the pandemic took hold.
But some were hit harder than others and some bounced back faster than others.
The graphs shown here only offer snapshots of a pandemic that isn’t over yet. Although immunization appears to offer a path out of this global disaster, new mutations and new variants have the potential to delay that.
Unless Canada can improve its vaccination performance, other countries probably will be quicker to bend their rates of death and hospitalizations downward, closing a gap that currently favors Canada.
But the numbers suggest that one thing will not change: when compared with its peers in Europe and North America, Canada’s pandemic experience has been less intense – and less deadly.