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COVID-19 vaccine won’t be a ‘silver bullet,’ chief public health officer says


Canadians shouldn’t expect a COVID-19 vaccine to be a “silver bullet” that will bring a swift end to the coronavirus pandemic and a return to normal, according to the country’s chief public health officer.

Dr. Theresa Tam used her briefing on Tuesday in Ottawa to temper expectations about the speed and effectiveness of a vaccine. She reiterated the importance of physical distancing, proper hand hygiene and mask-wearing, and attempted to dissuade any notion that a vaccine will make life go back to the way it was in a couple of months.

“We can’t at this stage just put all of our focus [on a vaccine] in the hopes that this is the silver bullet solution,” said Tam. “It is a very important solution if we get a safe and effective vaccine, but I would say that the public health measures that we have in place — the sort of personal, daily measures that we take — is going to have to continue.”

Tam said it’s unclear at this stage how effective a vaccine will be. She said key questions remain about the degree and duration of immunity a vaccine will provide, the dosage that will be needed and whether it will prevent people from getting infected altogether or simply prevent severe illness requiring hospitalization.

WATCH: Tam cautions COVID-19 vacine not a ‘silver bullet’

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam responds to reporter questions about the search for a vaccine for COVID-19. 2:08

More than 150 under development

There are more than 166 vaccines at various stages of preclinical and clinical (human) testing across the globe right now, the World Health Organization says. U.S. and European experts say under an optimistic scenario, the first of those vaccines could complete testing and get approval for distribution next year. 

Tam warned that even once a vaccine is tested and deemed to be both safe and effective, there will be challenges with distributing it widely to those who need it.

“It’s likely that there won’t be enough vaccines for the population,” said Tam. “So there’ll be prioritization and we’re looking at that.”

Tam said she agreed with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease specialist in the U.S., who told Congress last week that he was “cautiously optimistic” that a safe and effective vaccine will be available by the end of the year.

Despite that, she said public health officials are planning for a scenario in which measures that have been put in place thus far, including physical distancing to limiting crowd sizes, could be required for at least the next two to three years.

“[A vaccine] is one important layer of protection,” said Tam. “We’re going to have to manage this pandemic certainly over the next year, but certainly [we are] planning for the longer term of the next two to three years during which the vaccine may play a role but we don’t know yet.”



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