Canada should maintain equal distribution of vaccines, says Dal virologist

·3 min read

A virologist at Dalhousie University who's working to develop a new vaccine to fight COVID-19 says ensuring doses are distributed equally across Canada is necessary since outbreaks can happen quickly.

The idea of diverting vaccines to areas of the country that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus has been raised by some health experts, but there's debate over whether it's the right approach.

Alyson Kelvin, a virologist at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology in Saskatoon, said while Nova Scotia might have few cases right now, it's also home to many people who are most vulnerable.

"There are regions that are quite vulnerable, including the Maritime provinces, which have higher rates of older people, higher rates of certain comorbidities that would place their population in greater risk if COVID-19 ... was to transmit heavily," Kelvin, an assistant professor at Dalhousie, told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon on Monday.

"So in the end, Nova Scotia might even be more vulnerable to COVID-19."

Kelvin also pointed to communities in the North where cases are low but where access to health care is limited.

"They might not have an outbreak right now, but that doesn't mean that they're any less susceptible to devastating effects if the virus was to be brought to their communities. This is a very dynamic situation and things could change very quickly," she said.

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., has suggested that doses be redistributed from the Atlantic region where cases are low to "give it to the rest of Canada that's suffering."

With delays in the delivery of vaccines to Canada, Kelvin said she understands these worries. She said diverting doses could relieve stress in some of the harder hit area of the country, such as Ontario and Quebec.

But she adds that outbreaks can happen elsewhere quickly.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

"It's really important that we continue to have equity of vaccines across Canada and ... across the world because we're all susceptible," she said, "and to take away possibly that umbrella that one community might have might put them further at risk, so that's something that needs to be weighed carefully moving forward."

Kelvin said diverting vaccines could also impact the morale of Nova Scotians who've been following public health restrictions, although she's hopeful it won't come to that.

The federal government has said it has no plans right now to redirect doses from provinces and territories with low levels of transmission, but it didn't rule out adjusting distribution in the future.

As of Monday afternoon, Nova Scotia had administered 14,906 doses and 0.28 per cent of the population had been fully vaccinated.

Nova Scotia Government
Nova Scotia Government

Could Canadian vaccine be coming soon?

The province is aiming to vaccinate 75 per cent of Nova Scotians by early fall, with health-care workers, seniors and people in long-term care facilities at the top of the list.

Kelvin is among a group of people at the VIDO-InterVac lab in Saskatoon working to develop the first made-in-Canada vaccine.

With news that Moderna has cut shipments to Canada, she said it's more important than ever to have secure access to a vaccine that's made right here.

"We really needed to focus on our Canadian efforts to continue making vaccines just in case there was a vaccine shortage, which is what we're seeing right now," she said.