Canada’s pandemic measures could last years, even with a COVID-19 vaccine: Dr. Theresa Tam

Canada's top public health officials caution that a vaccine will not be a "silver bullet" solution to the COVID-19 crisis

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      Canada’s top public health officials are preparing for coronavirus restrictions to last for two to three years—even after a COVID-19 vaccine is available.

      During a press briefing on Tuesday, the country’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam told reporters that life will likely not return to normal after a vaccine is created.

      “We’re going to have to manage this pandemic certainly over the next year, but certainly maybe planning for the longer term of the next two to three years during which the vaccine may play a role,” she said. “But we don’t know yet.”

      Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer, said Canadians should temper their expectations and that a COVID-19 vaccine is not a “silver bullet that will take care of everything”.

      “People might think that if we get a vaccine then everything goes back to normal, the way it was before. That’s not the case,” he explained. “All of the measures we’ve put in place now will still have to continue with the new reality for quite some time.”

      During a U.S. house of representatives hearing last week, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci told American lawmakers he is “cautiously optimistic” a vaccine would be widely available in the U.S. next year. Tam echoed Fauci’s “cautious” optimism, noting phase 3 trials will determine a vaccine’s effects on the immune system and potential adverse effects. But she also said public health officials will have a number of issues to contend with once the public can access a vaccine.

      “A lot of companies looking at phase 3 clinical trials are hoping they’ll get results by the end of this year,” Tam said. “That still doesn’t mean that we have vaccines for everyone. It’s likely that there won’t be enough vaccines for the population as the vaccine rolls out. So there’ll be prioritization.”

      Outstanding questions include the degree and duration of immunity a vaccine provides, the number of doses required and the necessity for a booster later on. If the virus evolves, the vaccine may need to be adapted accordingly. Tam also noted that not all vaccines prevent infections and gave the influenza vaccine—or flu shot—as an example.

      “The public health measures that we have in place—the personal, daily measures that we take—are going to have to continue,” she said. “Quite honestly a lot of it is good personal hygienic practices that we should sustain in the long-run anyways.”

      The status of COVID-19 vaccines

      On July 27, Massachusetts-based biotechnology company Moderna, Inc., and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) announced that phase 3 clinical trials had begun on a COVID-19 vaccine. The trials will evaluate the safety of the vaccine and determine if it can prevent symptomatic COVID-19 after two doses, among other objectives.

      The U.S. government has invested US$955 million into developing the vaccine, which is being tested at 89 sites across the United States. The trial has 30,000 participants.

      In Canada, there are 55 COVID-19 drugs, including vaccines, undergoing clinical trials authorized by federal health officials. Globally, researchers are developing more than 165 vaccines. Of those 27, are being tested in human trials.

      On Tuesday, Ontario reported 91 new cases of COVID-19. The province has had a total of 39,628 cases. Of those infections, 35,601—or 89.8 percent—are recovered. Toronto has had 15,420 cases and 1,159 people have died.

      Worldwide, more than 18.3 million COVID-19 cases have been confirmed. Of those, more than 4.7 million are in the United States.