Angelo George believes he could be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with a Canadian prototype vaccine dubbed COVAC-2 being studied as part of a vaccine trial underway in Halifax.
Developed by VIDO, the vaccine and infections disease organization at the University of Saskatchewan, the COVAC-2 vaccine is in Phase 1 of the clinical trial led by Dr. Joanne Langley, a pediatric infectious disease physician at the IWK hospital and researcher with the Canadian Center for Vaccinology.
“I feel very privileged because I got the first shot of any kind that’s part of a Canadian vaccine trial,” said George, a 28-year-old international student at St. Mary’s University.
George received his first shot on Feb. 10 and 28 days later he’s now received his second shot, although he can’t be sure if it was a real dose of the vaccine or a placebo.
The vaccine trial is a blind study examining the safety and the immune response of the vaccine, meaning neither the doctors involved nor the patients know if they’ve been given a real dose of the vaccine or a placebo.
George won’t know the full results of his study until February 2022 when he’s completed the one-year trial.
Although these vaccine trials won’t likely produce any approved vaccines before Ottawa’s target date of vaccinating all Canadians by September, they are still important for Canadian science.
“We do have excellent science in Canada and we need to support it so that we can build our own domestic capacity,” said Langley.
Langley says the Canadian vaccines, once approved, could also help in the global response to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There still are billions of people for whom no vaccine has been procured yet,” she said.
Along with the COVAC-2 prototype, the Canadian Center for Vaccinology is also testing a vaccine candidate from the Quebec-based biopharmaceutical firm Medicago and a Canadian-sponsored vaccine from the U.S. biopharmaceutical company VBI, which signed an agreement with the federal government to produce a vaccine candidate last year.
Langley says the vaccine trials are beneficial now and for the future as well, suggesting there could be domestic use for the vaccines if approved, as booster shots if they are deemed necessary or for immunizing newcomers.
“In the future, we may need boosters, we may need another dose later on,” said Langley. “There will also be people that are born coming up and there will be immigrants coming in and new populations over time that will need their primary immunizations.”
Being part of the vaccine trial allows George a sense of pride. He feels part of the solution and says it’s opened the door for greater discussion with others around the importance of science and getting vaccinated.
“People come with a spectrum of beliefs and people have different opinions and so I think this kind of gave me the opportunity to engage in some constructive discussions,” said George.
As for setting an example, George says he’s also inspired his roommate to register as a volunteer for the vaccine trial, which is completely volunteer-based but does compensate participants financially, providing them $550 and a parking pass to use at the IWK hospital.
Geroge has to keep a diary for the first seven days following each vaccination, recording any symptoms or side effects he may be feeling, while completing routine checkups throughout the year.
As an international student, George doesn’t have his own doctor in Halifax and says one benefit to being part of the vaccine trial is he now has access to a physician who he can consult with at any time.
“Now that I look back, there are some personal benefits,” said George. “My health has been continuously monitored and so I know I am in good health.”
When his age group becomes eligible for one of the approved vaccines, George says he’s under no obligation to continue the study and can drop out at any time and take the vaccine but says it’s his plan to stick with the year-long trial to help with the science.