A University of Saskatchewan lab says it is on the forefront of developing a vaccine for the novel coronavirus and a manufacturing lab to produce it.
The Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) in Saskatoon said it has isolated the coronavirus in its lab and generated a vaccine based on the isolate. It says it’s now in the process of testing it on ferrets.
“The ferrets have been immunized with the test vaccine. We’re allowing them to develop an immune response and then we’ll expose them to the virus in a few weeks and see if the vaccine works or not,” said Volker Gerdts, VIDO-InterVac director and CEO.
The lab has about 30 people working almost 24 hours a day, in shifts.
In 2020, VIDO-InterVac has received approximately $28 million in funding, the majority from the federal government’s rapid research initiative, which is aimed at contributing to global efforts to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
“It helps us to enhance our capacities. We’ve hired new people and it allows us to do many studies in parallel,” Gerdts said.
“This is critical right now as time is so important. We can now have multiple trials going on, in parallel, to not waste any time.”
The money has also allowed VIDO-InterVac to construct a vaccine manufacturing facility.
“Hopefully next year, we can start producing vaccines right here in Saskatoon.”
“One critical gap we have right now in Canada is our lack of capacity to manufacture vaccines. We depend on other countries.”
The million-dollar question is when the public can get vaccinated. The answer, according to Gerdts, is 14 to 18 months.
“If everything goes well, then we’re hoping to know by May whether the vaccine works in animals.”
“We have to demonstrate that the vaccine is safe for use in humans. That’s really important and will hopefully happen in a few months.”
“Then, at the end of the year, we can go into clinical testing in humans and there’s various phases for that.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. All international travellers returning to Saskatchewan are required to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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