Saskatoon·YXE Underground

COVID-19 researchers open up about stressful, rewarding work looking for a vaccine

Andrea Kroeker and Jill Van Kessel are research technicians at Saskatoon's VIDO-InterVac facility. Every day, they work with the COVID-19 virus to develop an effective vaccine to the virus.

VIDO-InterVac seeking funding to establish national centre for pandemic research in Saskatchewan

Saskatoon’s VIDO-InterVac is on the frontlines of a global effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Research technicians Andrea Kroeker (left) and Jill Van Kessel are part of the VIDO-InterVac team working on this vital project. (Rona Andreas)

The days are long and the pressure in immense, but there's nowhere else Andrea Kroeker and Jill Van Kessel would rather be.

Kroeker and Van Kessel are research technicians at Saskatoon's VIDO-InterVac facility. Every day, they work with the COVID-19 virus to develop an effective vaccine to the virus.

Just this week, it was announced the VIDO-InterVac research facility in Saskatoon is seeking funding to upgrade its facility and become what it describes as a national centre for pandemic research.

The University of Saskatchewan facility has drawn increased national attention in 2020 for its efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. It is currently seeking approval to start human clinical trials in December. 

Kroeker and Van Kessel open up about the stressful but rewarding experience in the latest episode of the YXE Underground podcast. 

YXE Underground host Eric Anderson spoke with the pair after a long day in the VIDO-InterVac lab to find out why they wanted to be a part of this project and how they deal with the stress of their jobs.  

The following are excerpts from their conversation.

Anderson: How does it feel working so closely with the virus?

Kroeker: I often tell my parents not to worry when I'm inside because I feel safest working in a Level 3 containment lab. I feel much safer than being out in the community or grocery shopping. That's because we are very well trained and we do this every day.

There's really very little risk of being exposed as opposed to being outside when you're around people. It's really like our own little bubble here at work that we spend time in.

Anderson: Why did you want to be a part of this team?

Van Kessel: I wanted to do something progressive and something to help. I'm not good sitting at home. I'm an extrovert and I think I really would have been in trouble had I been at home.

My family is at home, of course, but I need people. I get energy from people, and so I was very grateful to be coming to work and contributing to something.

To be making a difference instead of just being at home worrying and not being able to help. That was very important to me.

Jill Van Kessel is a research technician at VIDO-Intervac. (Rona Andreas)

Anderson: Andrea, you were working at the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg this past spring when a position became open at VIDO-InterVac. What was it like moving in the midst of a global pandemic?

Kroeker: I was so excited. It's basically my dream job to be here. I didn't need time to think about it. I jumped at the chance and I'm very happy to be here. In many ways, Saskatoon isn't too different from Winnipeg. I felt very much at home right away.

When I came to VIDO, it was mostly shut down. There was just the SARS lab that was working and I bonded with that lab very quickly because they were my world. The whole city was also shut down so I went back and forth between home and work, and that was my life.

Andrea Kroeker is a research technician at VIDO-Intervac. (Rona Andreas)

Anderson: How much pressure do you feel in your job?

Van Kessel: There's pressure, definitely, because people are dying. The government of Canada has given us a lot of money and everyone just wants to go back to normal. You hear it in the media and everyone is saying, "that won't happen until we get a vaccine."

So yeah, there's some pressure, but it's good pressure, I guess. It's because we need it and it motivates you to work harder. You're tired but we got to get it out.

YXE Underground podcast host Eric Anderson hears what it’s like to play a role in such an important global initiative and how they deal with the pressure of their job. (Rona Andreas)

Anderson: How does it feel being part of a global effort to develop a vaccine?

Van Kessel: It's unprecedented to have people being so open with their research and what they're finding versus what we're finding.

Typically that's all very closed and secretive because you want to be the first to publish your findings. That's not happening right now. Everybody's sharing all their research and all their findings and coming together for the greater good. It's very heartening to see. I think that's how science should be all the time.

Kroeker: I think the idea is to not just have one vaccine but we might benefit from having multiple vaccines. Whether one company just can't produce enough of one, or whether different vaccines work better on other people, we just don't know yet.  There is definitely lots of room, I think, for many ideas at this time.

This article is based on an episode of YXE Underground. It's a podcast focusing on people in Saskatoon who are making a difference in the community but are not receiving the attention they deserve in social or mainstream media. You can listen to YXE Underground here. You can also download episodes on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice. 

  • Read more YXE Underground articles here.

About the Author

Eric Anderson

Freelance writer

Eric Anderson is the communications leader for Sherbrooke Community Centre in Saskatoon and creator of the podcast YXE Underground. He spent nearly eight years with CBC Saskatchewan.


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