Expect pandemic response to persist for 2-3 years, says Tam
OTTAWA — Canada’s top public health doctors warned Tuesday that vaccines in development for COVID-19 provide hope, but will not mean an immediate end to the pandemic.
Dr. Theresa Tam said the Public Health Agency of Canada is planning to be responding to the pandemic for at least a year and more likely two or three.
“I would say that a vaccine is a very important aspect of the response going forward, but we can’t, at this stage, put all of our focus in the hopes this is the silver-bullet solution,” Tam said at a briefing on the COVID-19 situation in Canada.
“It is a very important solution if we get a safe and effective vaccine, but I would say the public health measures that we have in place, the personal daily measures that we take, is going to have to continue.”
There are more than two dozen vaccines for COVID-19 in clinical trials around the world. In the best-case scenario, one or two might be approved for widespread use by the end of the year. But approval is only a step in the process, and it will take time to then produce, distribute and administer billions of doses.
Dr. Srinivas Murthy, a criticalcare specialist and pandemic researcher at the University of British Columbia, said the world has never attempted a vaccine program at this speed or scale before. “We have no idea how this is going to work,” he said.
He said once a vaccine is approved, then the questions become who gets it first, will people feel comfortable taking it, and how do you get it into them.
Volker Gerdts, CEO of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease
Organization at the University of Saskatchewan, said even as the timeline for developing vaccines is accelerated, speed is not coming at the expense of safety. He said Health Canada will not approve a vaccine that is not safe or that cut safety corners to get through faster.
In 2009, when the H1N1 flu virus was declared a pandemic, there was a wide-scale vaccination effort, but that illness did not have the same impact as COVID-19, and the development of the vaccine was different because flu vaccines are developed every year.
Murthy said the world knew it should have a specific coronavirus vaccine because a pandemic like this was predicted, but no one got as far as making one, so the research was starting much further behind where H1N1 was when a pandemic was declared. COVID-19 is also wider-spread and more lethal than H1N1 was.
“The whole world wants this one at the exact same time and that is something that is going to require unprecedented amounts of co-ordination and collaboration across the world,” Murthy said.
The World Health Organization says vaccines must be effective in at least 50 per cent of the population for any chance of approval, and closer to 70 per cent is better. Once a vaccine developer declares a vaccine is both safe and effective, nations can begin the work to approve its use on their citizens.
Here that falls to Health Canada, which is already working with the provinces, through the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, to determine how approval, manufacture and distribution will work. The committee is expected to announce before the end of the summer which segments of the population will be prioritized for getting the vaccine.
Dr. Theresa Tam at a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday. Canada is planning to be responding to the pandemic for at least a year and more likely two or three, Tam said.