Canadian expert says he is confident COVID-19 vaccine is months, not years away

Canadian expert says he is confident COVID-19 vaccine is months, not years away

OTTAWA — One of Canada’s preeminent infectious disease experts says he is confident a vaccine for COVID-19 will be ready in months, not years.

Dr. Gary Kobinger, director of the Research Centre on Infectious Diseases at Laval University in Quebec, says there are more than 100 possible vaccines in development for COVID-19 around the world. With so many resources and people working on the problem, things are moving very quickly.

“I think we have a very high likelihood to see a coronavirus vaccine emerge in the next, hopefully months, meaning many, many months, but not 10 years,” Kobinger said Friday, during a virtual conversation with Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.

Kobinger helped develop a vaccine and treatment for the deadly Ebola virus while he worked at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Manitoba, and has decades of experience co-ordinating with global colleagues on vaccine development.

He is now working with labs in Canada, the United States, Chile, China, Europe and Africa on their various candidates for a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes the disease now known around the world as COVID-19.

Many governments and public health experts have warned the physical distancing restrictions and public gathering limitations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 may need to remain in place until a vaccine can be developed.

Kobinger said the vaccine, and the parallel work studying drugs that could better treat COVID-19, reducing the length and intensity of the illness in those who get very sick, are both advancing at lightning speed.

“The knowledge keeps building up at an amazing pace, I must say,” he said.

That is not to say there is not a huge amount of work left to do, he added. The chief concern in the development of a vaccine is safety, because he says if even one of the more than 100 candidates turns out to harm people it could put every one of the others in jeopardy as well.

Kobinger said developing a vaccine candidate can take just a few weeks, particularly once the virus itself was mapped out. Then the candidates are tested on animals, usually mice, with safety being the main concern.

When the trials move to humans, they are done in three phases, with the first phase very small and only looking at safety. The second phase uses a slightly larger group of volunteers where safety is still job one, but the effect of the vaccine is part of the mix.

If a vaccine proves to be both safe and effective after phase two, then the researchers recruit tens of thousands of volunteers to receive the vaccine, and its effectiveness is tested. That process often takes decades.

“Now we are trying to really compress 15, 20 years of vaccine development into one single year,” he said.

Kobinger said with this particular virus researchers have two big things in their corner. First, this virus is new but similar to the SARS outbreak in 2003 that killed 43 people in Toronto. That virus was named SARS-CoV, and this one is SARS-CoV-2.

A lot of the work done to try and create a vaccine for the first SARS — which was never completed because the outbreak died out after six months — is proving useful this time.

Kobinger also said unlike HIV or influenza, SARS-CoV-2 is not changing very quickly. That is allowing the vaccine researchers to plan one universal vaccine that could help all people.

Researchers haven’t been able to develop an HIV vaccine in 35 years of trying, said Kobinger, and influenza vaccines are adjusted every year as the virus mutates.

Kobinger said he cannot predict exactly when a vaccine will be ready, but he says his lab is “going at full speed.”

“It will be a critical tool to protect the population, people, in order for them to get back to absolutely normal life as it was before COVID-19,” said Kobinger.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 12, 2020.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

UPDATED: Red Deer has nine active COVID-19 cases

Number of cases increased by 107 Friday

“My world exploded,” says Bentley-area farmer who’s swather was struck by a motorist

Dennis Duncan was a mile from home when his swather was struck by another travelling at high speeds

Man sentenced to 7 years for gas-and-dash death of Alberta gas station owner

Ki Yun Jo was killed after Mitchell Sydlowski sped off in a stolen cube van without paying for $198 of fuel

New owners of Sylvan Lake Canadian Tire looking to be big part of the community

Randy and Alison Patton are the new owners of Sylvan Lake Canadian Tire

Alberta shifting to ‘targeted approach’ to asymptomatic COVID-19 testing

Alberta’s central zone down to 29 active cases

Notley to stay on as Alberta NDP leader for 2023 provincial election

The NDP took almost all of Edmonton but few seats outside of the city

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

B.C., Alberta sending nearly 300 fire personnel by Friday to help battle wildfires in Oregon

Some 230 firefighters, most from British Columbia but including a number from Alberta, will be deployed Friday

Death of mother grizzly a ‘big loss’ for bear population in Banff park: experts

The bear, known as No. 143, spent most of her time in the backcountry of Banff

U.S.-Canadian border closure reportedly could extend through November

The border between the two countries has been closed to non-essential travel since March 21

Threat of fall federal election eases as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Congeniality emerged as fears of second wave of COVID-19 were heightened after another case increase

Intoxicated male arrested by Ponoka RCMP passes away after fall

Incident remains under investigation by ASIRT

Most Read