After more than 10 months suffering under the coronavirus pandemic, there may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel.
In Canada and elsewhere in the developed world, governments have begun to inoculate their populations with new vaccines engineered to combat COVID 19, and it may be only a matter of a few more months until the large majority of Western countries are vaccinated against the deadly disease.
And even while western countries have started the vaccination drive, the progress is by no means uniformly successful. In fact, Israel ranks first in the entire world based on the proportion of its population to have already received an initial dose of a coronavirus vaccine. As of mid-January, 28 per cent of Israelis have been vaccinated.
Israel’s success in this area is a point of pride for many Israelis, as it should be. But Canada need not be jealous of Israel; rather, there are lessons we can emulate to help ensure that Canada can mimic the rapid pace of Israel’s vaccine drive.
Media pundits have claimed that Israel and Canada have far too many differences to make a meaningful comparison. There is some accuracy in this statement, after all, Israel has only nine million people – roughly the same as Quebec – and spread over an area not much larger than the surface area of Lake Ontario. Canada has four times the population, but spread over an area nearly 500 times larger. And while Canada has seen no domestic terror threat of significance since the FLQ crisis 50 years ago, Israel, always on an existential footing, has excellent emergency preparedness, in large part because of the ongoing daily terror threat it faces.
But there are many small, densely populated countries in the world who have not been successful in this area like Israel, so what is Israel doing differently?
Most importantly, there’s a clear urgency and immediacy to Israel’s vaccine rollout. Israel’s leaders clearly understand that widespread vaccination is the only passport to an opened economy, to a less burdened healthcare system, and to a general return to relative normalcy. While many Canadian vaccine clinics closed over the Christmas holidays, and then continued with very low numbers of vaccinations per day afterwards, Israel is vaccinating with alacrity at seven days per week, at all hours of the day and night. Israel is now aiming to vaccinate 250,000 people a day and Israelis aged 40+ are now received the jab. At this pace, Israel hopes to vaccinate all Israelis over 16 years of age by the end of March.
In the 2009 book Start-Up Nation, which chronicled Israel’s rapid rise to success as an economic and technological powerhouse, the authors Dan Senor (a Toronto-raised writer and political analyst) and Saul Singer, identified a counter-intuitive way in which innovation was encouraged in Israel. In the military, they observed, it was commonplace to question the status quo and to challenge authority. This led to an approach which encouraged thinking outside the box to find creative solutions to challenging problems.
During a pandemic, thinking outside the box has certainly served Israel well. Israel struck a deal with Pfizer and reportedly paid twice the price promising to share vast troves of medical data with the international drug giant in exchange for the continued flow of its hard-to-get vaccine. Other vaccines currently approved for use in Israel, like Pfizer’s BioNTech and Moderna, require extreme cold refrigeration prior to inoculation, and after the doses have been taken out of the refrigerator, they have a shelf life of only a day. After that, they expire and are not suitable to be used. In Canada and the US, the leftover doses are often discarded, thus benefiting no one. But in Israel, there has been a creative solution, offering the leftover vaccines to anyone who will take it, thus minimizing the amount of waste.
There are many other elements of Israel’s vaccination drive which can be mimicked in Canada, including the further digitization of health records, making fuller use of the military in logistical vaccine rollouts, more vaccination centres, and longer hours. All of these changes can certainly make an impact, and they would allow Canada to vaccinate more people, faster, ensuring a speedy exit from this dangerous and debilitating pandemic.
But perhaps there is no lesson more powerful that Israel can provide to Canada than the concept that failure is not an option, and that a small country can see big success if it takes a problem seriously. In a sense, our media should take note that Israel’s successful vaccination drive is a powerful David vs. Goliath story, as one of the world’s smallest countries is set to defeat the menacing coronavirus pandemic.
While Canada has a larger population, and far more spread out than Israel, it also has a world-class healthcare system, a wealthy populace and an eagerness to escape the deadly clutches of the coronavirus pandemic. Israel has worked hard to be the world leader when it comes to vaccinations, but Canada should not despair. It should look to Israel not with jealousy, but with the commitment to do the same.