Saskatchewan

SHA assures vaccine was developed quickly thanks to 'large amount of resources,' not cutting corners

On Tuesday two Regina health-care workers became the first Saskatchewan residents to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but not everyone is comfortable with the idea of being innoculated. 

Curbing COVID-19 transmission will require about 70 per cent of population to be immunized: experts

Dr. Tania Diener, lead medical health officer for immunization for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, giving a speech at Saskatchewan's first COVID-19 immunization at Regina General Hospital on Tuesday. (CBC News)

On Tuesday two Regina health-care workers became the first Saskatchewan residents to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but not everyone is comfortable with the idea of being innoculated.

Experts say curbing COVID-19 transmission will require about 70 per cent of the population to be immunized.

Dr. Tania Diener, lead medical health officer for immunization for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said there is a lot of mistrust and plenty of myths surrounding the new COVID-19 vaccines. 

"I know one of the big ones is the fact that this vaccine was so rapidly developed and approved," said Diener. 

Diener said the province will work to communicate to residents why the vaccine is trustworthy. 

"Honestly, no safety protocols were bypassed," Diener said. 

"It's just that during this really high time of need worldwide, the amount of resources that were put into this were tremendous. And it allowed us to to have the fortune of being able to administer this vaccine after less than a year."

Diener said the province will need to identify other misconceptions surrounding the vaccine and try to address them. 

Dr. Jeffrey Betcher, right, was the very first person in Saskatchewan to be vaccinated. (CBC)

'Our generation's moon landing'

Dr. Kyle Anderson, an assistant professor of biochemistry, microbiology and immunology at the University of Saskatchewan, said it's reasonable for people to think that this vaccine seems rushed based on usual circumstances.

But that is because normally scientific developments and research face delays, he says. 

"When it isn't something that we have a use for, when it's not something that's a marketable product, there's a lag between getting funding, doing a little bit of research, getting more funding [and] trying to get individuals to go into the case studies and the clinical trials," Anderson said.

These delays mean scientific developments and research can often take years to formulate. COVID-19 created an urgency that made delays like that unacceptable.

"This is essentially our generation's moon landing. This is as many scientists who had the expertise as we could possibly recruit, as many millions of dollars worth of research, and as many volunteers willing to put themselves to the front of the line to get that experimental vaccine — to try to  get this done as fast as humanly, safely possible," Anderson said. 

Anderson said the technology being used for the mRNA-based vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna has been developed using the original SARS. 

"They were trying to work on that around 2004, 2005. But because SARS disappeared, that research was essentially mothballed. There was no reason to keep going on that," said Anderson.

"But that was enough that as soon as the virus [COVID-19] came out and we knew what kind of virus it was, we already had very good ideas as to what to target for a vaccine."

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses. The second dose must be administered 21 days after the first. (CBC)

Phased delivery

Health-care workers who work directly with COVID-19 patients at Regina General and Pasqua hospitals, as well as staff at testing and assessment centres, will be the first Saskatchewan people eligible to be vaccinated, according to the province. 

After that initial round of immunization, care home residents and staff, other front-line health-care workers, seniors and residents over the age of 50 living in remote or northern Saskatchewan will be given priority.

Vaccination is expected to be widely available by April 2021, the province's plan says — though it depends on manufacturing.

Dieder said the SHA expects the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to be approved by Health Canada for distribution in the country soon.

(CBC News Graphics)

CBC Saskatchewan wants to hear how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted you. Share your story with our online questionnaire.

With files from Nicholas Frew

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