COVID-19 vaccine could be available within 18 months, doctors tell UNF webinar

Dr. Sherri Kelly and Dr. Melania Buba

Marco Levytsky, NP-UN National Affairs Editor.

An effective COVID-19 vaccine could be available within 18 months, say two doctors who addressed a webinar sponsored by the Ottawa-Gatineau Branch of the Ukrainian National Federation, April 29.

Both Dr. Sherri Kelly, an infectious disease modeller specializing in global health economics and Dr. Melania Buba, a lead for patient flow at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario’s Regional Response, said that while the research is being done on an unprecedented scale world-wide for such a vaccine, it normally takes decades before an effective one can be distributed to the population at large.

That’s because it first has to be tested to ensure it is safe, and that takes time.

A recent story in the Washington Post elaborated on the points they made:

“Designing a promising vaccine is, in some ways, the easy part. Showing that it is safe and effective, and then scaling up production can take years, or even decades. Researchers are now trying to compress that timeline in ways they never have before, against a type of virus they have never successfully quelled. In some cases, they are also harnessing technologies that have never been used in approved vaccines. In contrast, scientists develop a new flu vaccine each year, an effort that is more of a ‘plug and play’ situation, where a time-tested basic platform can be redirected to fight new flu strains,” it stated.

Dr. Kelly opened the one-hour session, moderated by Simon Sulyma, President of UNF Ottawa-Gatineau, by providing an over view of the Covid-19 crisis and the necessary preventative steps people need to take, like physical distancing and hand washing.

She pointed out that while COVID germs can stay airborne for three hours and remain on copper for four, they can stay on cardboard for 24 hours and on stainless steel and plastic for as long as three days or more. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to disinfect such surfaces.

Asked by NP-UN about the recent decision by certain provinces to ease the restrictions on businesses, she said that there are different scenarios for re-opening the economy and it really depends upon what people think are essential services.

“I personally think it’s important to open it… then monitor because we have to see whether opening the floodgates a little bit is allowing the river to flow in a safe way,” she noted.

The key is to find a balance between the economic and health factors.

Dr. Buba, who is also a Member-at-Large on the UNF Ottawa-Gatineau Executive, revealed that hospital emergency departments are underused because people are afraid to go.

“Anybody with severe symptoms should go to the Emergency Department. I will tell you that the emergency departments are at an all-time low in terms of patients. People are afraid to go to the emergency departments, but I encourage people to go, please go if needed. We are finding that patients… who do come to emergency, do come in sicker than before because they waited — because they’ve been afraid.”

Asked about how to inform children about the crisis, she stated: “You need to give kids the truth. You need to give them the facts, but it needs to be age-appropriate and it needs to be simple.”

Responding to a question about the increasing rate of domestic abuse during lockdowns, she stated that the “first thing is we need to acknowledge that home is not the safest place for everybody”, and it is necessary to recognize that it does happen.

Dr. Buba, who specializes in child care, specifically addressed the effect this may have on children.

“The best way to help is to be the person that reaches out to the child that you know, that you may see out on the street and all you need to say is… it must be hard to be at home, how are you doing everything going OK… Often the victim of maltreatment will say that’s all it took that someone asked them how they were doing.”