Specimens to be tested for COVID-19 are seen at LifeLabs after being logged upon receipt at the company’s lab, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Specimens to be tested for COVID-19 are seen at LifeLabs after being logged upon receipt at the company’s lab, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Canadian expert says he is confident COVID-19 vaccine is months, not years away

Dr. Gary Kobinger helped develop a vaccine and treatment for the deadly Ebola virus

One of Canada’s preeminent infectious disease experts says he is confident a vaccine for COVID-19 will be ready in months, not years.

Dr. Gary Kobinger, director of the Research Centre on Infectious Diseases at Laval University in Quebec, says there are more than 100 possible vaccines in development for COVID-19 around the world. With so many resources and people working on the problem, things are moving very quickly.

“I think we have a very high likelihood to see a coronavirus vaccine emerge in the next, hopefully months, meaning many, many months, but not 10 years,” Kobinger said Friday, during a virtual conversation with Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.

Kobinger helped develop a vaccine and treatment for the deadly Ebola virus while he worked at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Manitoba, and has decades of experience co-ordinating with global colleagues on vaccine development.

He is now working with labs in Canada, the United States, Chile, China, Europe and Africa on their various candidates for a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes the disease now known around the world as COVID-19.

Many governments and public health experts have warned the physical distancing restrictions and public gathering limitations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 may need to remain in place until a vaccine can be developed.

Kobinger said the vaccine, and the parallel work studying drugs that could better treat COVID-19, reducing the length and intensity of the illness in those who get very sick, are both advancing at lightning speed.

“The knowledge keeps building up at an amazing pace, I must say,” he said.

That is not to say there is not a huge amount of work left to do, he added. The chief concern in the development of a vaccine is safety, because he says if even one of the more than 100 candidates turns out to harm people it could put every one of the others in jeopardy as well.

Kobinger said developing a vaccine candidate can take just a few weeks, particularly once the virus itself was mapped out. Then the candidates are tested on animals, usually mice, with safety being the main concern.

When the trials move to humans, they are done in three phases, with the first phase very small and only looking at safety. The second phase uses a slightly larger group of volunteers where safety is still job one, but the effect of the vaccine is part of the mix.

If a vaccine proves to be both safe and effective after phase two, then the researchers recruit tens of thousands of volunteers to receive the vaccine, and its effectiveness is tested. That process often takes decades.

“Now we are trying to really compress 15, 20 years of vaccine development into one single year,” he said.

Kobinger said with this particular virus researchers have two big things in their corner. First, this virus is new but similar to the SARS outbreak in 2003 that killed 43 people in Toronto. That virus was named SARS-CoV, and this one is SARS-CoV-2.

A lot of the work done to try and create a vaccine for the first SARS — which was never completed because the outbreak died out after six months — is proving useful this time.

Kobinger also said unlike HIV or influenza, SARS-CoV-2 is not changing very quickly. That is allowing the vaccine researchers to plan one universal vaccine that could help all people.

Researchers haven’t been able to develop an HIV vaccine in 35 years of trying, said Kobinger, and influenza vaccines are adjusted every year as the virus mutates.

Kobinger said he cannot predict exactly when a vaccine will be ready, but he says his lab is “going at full speed.”

“It will be a critical tool to protect the population, people, in order for them to get back to absolutely normal life as it was before COVID-19,” said Kobinger.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News file)
Rutland deemed ‘high-transmission’ area, people over 30 offered COVID-19 vaccine

Interior Health offers residents of Rutland and Summerland aged 30 and up chance at vaccine

Alex Hegedus (left) with his wife and two young children. (Contributed/Kelowna RCMP)
Family offers reward for information about Peachland man’s suspicious 2018 death

Alex Hegedus died under suspicious circumstances in March 2018

Al Kowalko shows off the province's first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Okanagan schools shifting gears to electric buses

Vernon, Central Okanagan, Rocky Mountain and Okanagan-Skaha on board

Flooding around the entrance of Mission Creek into Okanagan Lake has been a reflection of the impact of climate change on the spring snowmelt across the Okanagan Valley watershed. (File photo)
B.C. water sustainability plan pitched to Okanagan stakeholders

Seeking resolution to water and land-use conflicts

A woman checks out a jobs advertisement sign during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto in April 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Kelowna’s unemployment rate jumps in April, remains one of Canada’s lowest

Kelowna had the fifth-lowest unemployment rate of major centres across the country in April

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The postponement of the event was put in place to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

Lake Country firefighters assisted the RCMP on Kalamalka Lake Tuesday, May 4. (Fire Department file photo)
Okanagan RCMP interrupt houseboat break-in

Pair in their 30s arrested but no charges laid after alleged Kalamalka Lake incident

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Revelstoke’s Mayor Gary Sulz getting his COVID-19 vaccination on April 5. (Jocelyn Doll - Revelstoke Review)
Revelstoke is leading B.C.’s interior on vaccinations: Interior Health

Approximately 70% of the community has first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

An unused fruit stand at Highway 97 and Road 1 went up in flames Thursday night. (Oliver Fire Department)
Abandoned South Okanagan fruit stand fire considered suspicious

The timing of the midnight fire is one reason the fire is suspicious

Most Read