Even if the global race to find a coronavirus vaccine succeeds, many of the restrictions aimed at managing the pandemic will likely need to remain in place for years, say Canada’s top doctors.
In a briefing with journalists Tuesday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned against basing all hope for a return to normalcy on the creation of a vaccine for the deadly virus.
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“We’re going to have to manage this pandemic certainly over the next year, but certainly it may be planning for the longer term on the next two to three years during which the vaccine may play a role,” said Tam, whose comments come as new polling suggests some are wary of the potential shot.
Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer, offered similar words of caution.
“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 said.
“All of the measures we’ve put in place now will still have to continue with the new reality for quite some time.”
The coronavirus pandemic originated in China late last year and has since exploded around the world.
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More than 18.3 million people are infected worldwide and 695,550 have died, according to a tally maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
In Canada, there have been 117,176 confirmed cases and 8,951 deaths from the virus.
The virus has baffled public health officials from the earliest days of the outbreak, spreading silently among asymptomatic hosts while also causing devastating respiratory and system failures in those who display more severe symptoms.
And while those with underlying health conditions appear to be hit hardest, individuals who are young and otherwise healthy have also died from the virus.
Countries around the world have put in place unprecedented lockdowns and travel bans, shutting down entire sectors including service, hospitality and tourism, along with other non-essential businesses.
While many of those have begun to ease in recent months, public health officials, including Tam, have warned that provinces may need to crack down again if infections spike.
The unending nature of the pandemic has sparked a global race to find a vaccine.
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But although there are several vaccine candidates in Stage 2 and Stage 3 testing around the world, there have been concerns on social media about whether such a rapidly developed vaccine will have been fully vetted as safe — concerns that doctors say are unfounded.
“I think, to be honest, the follow up of participants in the trials has been very rigorous,” said Dr. Manish Sadarangani, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia and director of the Vaccine Evaluation Centre at B.C. Children’s Hospital in an interview with Global News last week.
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“These are people who are followed up very closely to look for side effects.”
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According to an Angus Reid poll released Tuesday, three in five Canadians report feeling worried about the potential side effects of a coronavirus vaccine.
The researchers asked respondents whether they would get a coronavirus vaccine if one became available and in response, 46 per cent said they would get it as soon as they could while 32 per cent said they would wait.
Fourteen per cent said they would not get a coronavirus vaccine and eight per cent said they were unsure.
Four in five, however, say they would get the vaccine to protect their families.
Many also reported they do not believe life will go back to normal until there is a vaccine: 77 per cent of respondents who live in urban areas and 59 per cent of those in rural areas.
Dr. Noni MacDonald, who studies vaccine safety at Dalhousie University’s school of medicine, said that while people are often less eager to try new medical interventions, the results should be taken with a grain of salt, given that respondents aren’t yet facing a real choice.
“Question was asked with no information or data about any specific COVID-19 vaccine — because we do not have that information yet,” she said in an email.
“In making a health decision choice, (people) usually want specifics,” she added, pointing to considerations like their own risks for diseases, the effectiveness of any vaccine, and potential alternative options. “Most want all of that to be able to make a decision.”