As Canada awaits COVID-19 vaccine approval, Manitobans split on whether to roll up their sleeves

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The United Kingdom became the first country to approve a fully tested COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, developed by Pfizer and Biontech.

Health Canada is expected to give the greenlight in December. Health-care workers and long-term care residents are expected to be at the front of the line.

But Manitobans appear split on whether they’ll want to roll up their sleeves once mass inoculations begin.

“I wouldn’t be eager to get it,” said 24-year-old Christine Cornelio. “I’m concerned about side effects mostly.”

“I’m not brave enough,” echoed Winnipeg senior Ingrid Penner. “I don’t want to be a guinea pig.”

Others say they’ll want a jab as soon as it’s available to the general public.

“I would be first in line as soon as they’re offering it to regular folk,” said Monique, a Winnipeg hair stylist who is now out of work because of COVID-19 restrictions.

According to Pzifer and Biontech, the vaccine which must be stored in ultra-cold temperatures is 95 per cent effective. 

However, University of Manitoba medical ethicist Arthur Shafer says he is worried the roll-out may be moving too quickly. 

“There is such a push to get the vaccine licensed,” said Schafer. “There hasn’t been a single published scientific peer reviewed study. No one has seen the data except the company.”

“We don’t know if doctors who get the vaccine and therefore are at much reduced risk of showing symptoms, whether they can still be infectious … we don’t know the answers to most of the questions that will be vital to answer before we decide who should get it first.”

‘RIGOROUS’ REVIEW PROCESS UNDERWAY 

Dr. Volker Gerdts, the associate director of research at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at the University of Saskatchewan, said he trusts the federal government’s approval process.

“Even with the desire to quickly release the news and information, the actual phase one and phase two trials are being done in a very rigorous way,” said Gerdts.

The VIDO lab was the first in the country to isolate the virus.

Gerdts and his team are conducting clinical trials alongside the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

He said Canada has done a good job handling the procurement of the vaccine. However, in his view, the government needs to invest more in researching emerging viruses. 

“What Canada doesn’t have is a lot of additional capacity for public research, or university research, or quick developments of vaccines as is needed for COVID-19,” said Gerdts. 

“That was recognized by the government last spring. That is why we and others have received funding to build additional capacity,” he said. “Hindsight is 2020.”