Made-In-Sask COVID-19 research advancing in a climate of vaccine skepticism  

Watch the full interview with Dr. Volker Gerdts

Dr. Volker Gerdts, Director and CEO of VIDO InterVac in Saskatoon, reports his research team is making good progress in the search for a coronavirus vaccine. “We have chosen a technology that has an excellent safety profile,” says Gerdts.

It is assumed life will get back to ‘normal’ once scientists around the world roll out their approved coronavirus vaccines.

Not so fast.

Recent polls taken in Canada, the US and elsewhere show there is a sizeable number of anti-vaccine advocates.

It’s believed at least 80 percent of the population must take a COVID-19 vaccine to achieve herd immunity. Anything less may compromise the vaccine’s effectiveness. That concern was expressed by the head of the Saskatoon-based research team developing a coronavirus vaccine.

Dr. Volker Gerdts is the Director and CEO of VIDO Inter-Vac (Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre). The research team is based on the campus of the University of Saskatchewan and received $23 million from Ottawa in March to pursue its COVID-19 vaccine research. VIDO Inter-Vac is one of 187 vaccine teams being tracked by the World Health Organization.
In an interview on In Real Time with Costa Maragos, Gerdts predicted there will be a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccines developed by the spring or summer of 2021.  

That is a fast timeline given most vaccines take years to develop.

“We are seeing a lot of vaccine hesitancy out there. Having these vaccines in only 60 percent of the public or maybe 70 percent, that’s not good in that we don’t get much herd immunity,” he says.

VIDO Inter-Vac, based on the campus of the University of Saskatchewan, received a $23 million boost from Ottawa to speed up its COVID-19 vaccine research.

Recent polls back up Gerdts’ observation.

A poll by Angus Reid released in August shows that nearly a third of Canadians will wait a while before taking the vaccine while 46 percent say they will take it as soon as it becomes available. Fourteen percent of those polled say they will not take the vaccine.

The poll reported that Saskatchewan people expressed the greatest resistance to a COVID-19 vaccine in Canada with 33 percent saying they would take the vaccine when it is available but most will either wait or not take it at all. As of September 24, there were 1,835 reported COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan. Of those cases, 24 people are believed to have died from COVID-19 related causes.

Americans were more skeptical as that country approached its 200,000th death related to COVID-19. An Axios/Ipsos poll shows 33 percent of Americans are not at all likely to take the vaccine. It’s a similar story in Germany, Italy and Sweden. Russians are the greatest skeptics where nearly half the population, according to polls, would refuse the vaccine.
All of this paints a concerning picture for the medical community and vaccine supporters who hope a series of coronavirus vaccines will put the breaks to the pandemic.

I asked Dr. Gerdts what might be the source of peoples’ skepticism.

“Information and misinformation is out there,” he says. “People don’t know who to trust and who not to trust. As long as people trust the scientific data that’s coming out and showing how well these vaccines work I think that’s the best advice for everyone.”

While there is a skeptical public out there, Gerdts’ team has been inundated with people volunteering to take part in the vaccine trials.

“It’s a fantastic story for us. We have had people all over Canada contacting us and wanting to take part in the trials,” says Gerdts. “I don’t think it will be a problem finding any volunteers.”

Gerdts says the VIDO Inter-Vac team is on track for human trials.

“It is really exciting. We are just entering the last phase (animal testing) before clinical trials,” says Gerdts. “It’s all about safety. Nobody wants to cut any corners. We have chosen a technology that has an excellent safety profile. We know our vaccine is very safe. We just have to demonstrate it and once we have that hurdle cleared we can apply for a clinical trial and start our clinical trials in December.”