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Canada’s chief public health officer says people should not expect the coronavirus vaccine to act as a “silver bullet” that will end the pandemic and bring things back to normal.
"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," Dr. Theresa Tam said.
During her Tuesday briefing in Ottawa, Tam discussed what expectations Canadians should have when it comes to a new vaccine. She noted that life will not return to normal in just a matter of months and also continued to emphasize the importance of proper hygiene, physical distancing and mask wearing.
Tam said that at this point it is hard to tell how effective a vaccine may be. She added that there are still uncertainties regarding the duration of immunity, the dosage needed, and the extent to which it could prevent infection or hospitalization.
"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."
Tam said that even when a vaccine has gone through all the necessary steps of testing and is considered both safe and effective, distributing it to those in need will still prove to be a challenge.
"It's likely that there won't be enough vaccines for the population," Tam said. "So there'll be prioritization and we're looking at that."
Tam said she agrees with top U.S. infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci who said to Congress that he was “cautiously optimistic” last week that there may be a vaccine that is safe, effective, and available by the end of 2020.
Dr. Tam however, added that physical distancing and other pandemic measures that have been put in place so far may have to stay in place for several years.
"[A vaccine] is one important layer of protection," Tam said. "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."
Similar sentiment from the prime minister
On April 27, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters outside of Rideau Cottage that a return to normal would take years, and that behaviour would have to be changed, even with a vaccine present.
"What is a normal life will take a long time to return, and even at this point, two or three years from now, even once a vaccine against COVID-19 is available, we will have changed our behaviour. We will have taken measures as a society that will be different from what we used to do," Trudeau said in French.
On June 26, the Public Health Agency told the Senate social affairs committee that a second wave was on the horizon and would reach shores sometime after Labour Day, though it was still undetermined whether or not shutdown orders would be reinstated. “We hope it won’t come earlier, but I think we just have to prepare for what we call the reasonable worst-case scenario,” said Dr. Theresa Tam. “We don’t have a vaccine... The population is unlikely to have a high level of immunity. The risk of resurgence is very real.”