Ottawa must secure rapid test kits, Oxford vaccine for Canadians: expert

The federal government needs to do more to secure access to rapid, at-home coronavirus test kits and the vaccine candidate being developed at the University of Oxford for Canadians, says one epidemiologist.

Both are measures that will help limit the impact of some of the early mistakes the government has made, said the University of Ottawa’s Dr. Raywat Deonandan in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson.

“It’s clear now that we probably should have closed the borders earlier, we probably should’ve mandated mask wearing earlier. We should’ve compelled provinces to stop March break travel earlier,” he said.

“There are things we could’ve done. But I’m forgiving of those mistakes because that was based on the information we had at the time.”

“There are things we can do still to overcome the failures made so far.”

Key among those are securing access to the coronavirus vaccine candidate being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, as well as making at-home and rapid test kits easier to get.

Deonandan said it strikes him as a mistake that the government has so far failed to secure access to the AstraZeneca vaccine and that despite a pause on the trial last week, it remains a promising candidate.

He noted the researchers have been pro-active in disclosing large amounts of raw data from their trials in contrast to researchers who worked on a Russian vaccine candidate whose legitimacy has come under repeated questioning over a lack of large-scale testing and lack of transparent data.

“People need to understand that to do this right is going to take some time,” he said. “The fact the AstraZeneca trial was paused is a good thing. It means they’re taking safety seriously.”

The AstraZeneca vaccine trial was paused after one woman reported neurological symptoms that so far remain unexplained. It’s the second such pause for the trial, which was briefly stalled earlier in the summer after another individual reported neurological symptoms.

However, the cause of those symptoms ended up being an undiagnosed case of multiple sclerosis.

The pharmaceutical firm has said it still expects to know by the end of this year if its vaccine candidate works — if it is able to resume trials shortly.

So far, the government has signed agreements with Novavax, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Those deals say the government will get up to 38 million doses from Johnson & Johnson, up to 76 million from Novavax, up to 56 million from Moderna and a minimum of 20 million doses from Pfizer.

Deonandan said he is always hesitant when it comes to making predictions but offered a cautious one.

“I think it’s likely that we’ll have a viable candidate on the market on the world stage by the middle of next year, if not a bit earlier,” he said.

“With deployment, transportation, immune response, we may have sufficient numbers of people vaccinated to start thinking about not declaring the pandemic by the end of 2021, maybe the beginning of 2022, we’ll start seeing the pandemic being something in the past.”

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