Canada’s accelerating vaccination effort has put the country on track to reach key benchmarks for reopening the U.S. border as early as next month.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has begun citing a 75 per cent two-dose vaccination rate as the threshold to lift border restrictions. That number is about 20 per cent now.

As wide as that gap is, the latest vaccine delivery schedule suggests it could close considerably within the next month, raising the prospect that Canada could move ahead with a comprehensive reopening before the end of the critical summer tourism season.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand, in a June 15 interview on The Bridge podcast, said the share of Canadians fully vaccinated against COVID-19 could hit 80 per cent by the end of July. (A spokesperson for Anand clarified Wednesday that the minister meant 80 per cent of those eligible for the vaccines could potentially get one by then, based only on projected supplies.)

Trevor Tombe, a University of Calgary economics professor who monitors the data, said there’s a better than 50 per cent chance that Canada will reach that threshold in that timeframe.

"I would bet some money on it," Tombe said in a phone interview. However, to achieve the government’s goal, Canada will have to significantly increase its current rate of under 500,000 jabs a day.


Going Slow

Up to now, the Trudeau government’s cautious approach to the U.S. border has drawn condemnation from business groups and expatriates for being overly strict at a time when cases are plunging. The border has been closed to most travel since March 2020, and last week the governments extended the restrictions until at least July 21.

The rules have kept families apart, shut out tourists and students, and crimped the U.S.-Canada trading relationship, among the world’s largest. Although trucks and trains continued to move goods, Canada’s travel-related businesses lost an estimated $20 billion (US$16 billion) in revenue last year, according to one estimate.

Tombe said his latest projections have the country meeting the 75 per cent threshold on Aug. 5, but new information on vaccine supply suggests that forecast could be "very conservative," he said. That includes 11 million additional Moderna Inc. shots Trudeau and Anand announced Friday.

Canada’s decision to mix and match vaccines, including the shot from AstraZeneca Plc and Oxford University, is also helping it ramp up.

At a news conference on Tuesday, the prime minister said vaccination rates weren’t the only factor the government was considering. Officials, he said, are also factoring in the prevalence of variants and overall COVID-19 case counts in Canada and abroad. He said the situation was quickly improving.

"We’re doing things gradually, but we’re talking about weeks and not months anymore," Trudeau said, referring to the gradual reopening of the border.

Another wild card could be vaccine hesitancy, which appears to be less of a factor in Canada than it is elsewhere.

More than 25 million Canadians, or two-thirds of the population, had received one dose as of Tuesday, according to the COVID-19 Tracker Canada website, which combines federal and provincial data. That includes 7.8 million who have received two doses, for a total of about 33 million doses administered so far.

To reach the 75 per cent threshold for full vaccination -- equal to 28.5 million people -- the country would need to administer another 24 million doses.

That would require picking up the pace considerably. At the current rate of about 432,000 doses a day, Canada would be about 8 million jabs short of 75 per cent full vaccination by July 31.

Growing vaccine supply will help close the gap, as long as there isn’t too much vaccine hesitancy.

"If we encounter the U.S. problem whereby willing arms are trailing off then it could conceivably be later," Derek Holt, an economist at the Bank of Nova Scotia in Toronto, said by email.

According to Holt, Canada could reach the 75 per cent threshold as early as the middle of July or as late as mid-August, depending on whether demand trails off.

Trudeau, at his news conference, acknowledged the urgency of opening the border. "Everyone wants to get back to a more normal summer," he said.

--With assistance from Shelly Hagan.