The World Health Organization (WHO) states that vaccine hesitancy or the reluctance to be immunized is one of the top 10 global public health threats. It is currently estimated that as many as two to three million deaths a year are prevented by vaccines, with another million and half deaths that could be prevented through the increased use of vaccines.
COVID-19 has radically changed daily life. Although there have been other pandemics, the world has not seen a global pandemic of this scale since the Spanish Flu of 1918-19. Our response to the pandemic bears some similarity to 100 years ago in terms of mandatory masking, self-isolation and physical distancing, but the most significant difference is the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Technological and scientific advances have made the rapid development of a COVID-19 vaccine possible, while ensuring all regulatory and safety requirements have been met,” said Dr. Tania Diener, EOC COVID 19 Immunization Co-Chief, Saskatchewan Health Authority. “This is attributable to a collaborative international effort to share information and compare research, while adhering to rigorous testing requirements and approval standards.”
Developing the COVID-19 vaccine in slightly under a year may have some people questioning if it’s safe. While global research collaboration and administrative prioritization is responsible for the timeline, there have been no shortcuts taken on the regulatory requirements to ensure that the vaccine meets all prerequisite safety standards.
In Canada, the scientific evidence from human clinical trials is reviewed by Health Canada to ensure quality and safety. There is also the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), which is comprised of experts in the field of pediatrics, infectious diseases, immunology, medical microbiology, internal medicine and public health. NACI is responsible for evaluating how effective and safe the vaccine is among other aspects, who would most benefit and how other countries are using the vaccine.
The recommendations of NACI are made available to healthcare providers once the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has approved the vaccine for use. Once the vaccine is approved, manufacturers are also required to submit three to five consecutive lot samples to Health Canada’s laboratories to ensure that high quality vaccines are being consistently produced.
The concern for quality and safety doesn’t end at the manufacturing and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. For as long as the vaccine is in use in Canada, there is continued monitoring by PHAC and Health Canada. This is in addition to the ongoing work of researchers and manufacturers conducting additional studies and contributing information through an internal network that continues to monitor the vaccine.
Healthcare workers see the devastation and loss that COVID-19 can cause, and see a vaccine as an imperative tool in the battle against COVID-19.
“The vaccine is another layer of protection for both my team and my patients,” said Dr. Jeffrey Betcher, Critical Care Lead at the Regina General Hospital when he became the first healthcare provider in the province to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“If you’re not sure to get it for yourself, then get it for the safety of others,” said Leah Sawatsky, Emergency Room Nurse, Regina General Hospital. “We’re seeing people whose quality of life is getting taken away every day by COVID. It doesn’t discriminate (by) age. So trust the science.”
The COVID-19 vaccine won’t eliminate the need for masking, hand washing and physical distancing for the foreseeable future, but it is one of the most important ways to take a stand against COVID-19.
“We are fortunate to be living in an age when a rapid and safe response is available in the form of a COVID-19 vaccine,” noted Dr. Diener.
Please watch for more information to be provided on Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 immunization program, as it becomes available. For more information on COVID-19, please visit Saskatchewan.ca/COVID19.