The GNWT’s “Emerging Wisely” plan outlining a phased approach to lifting restrictions on our lives says that things will only get back to normal once an effective vaccine or treatment program for Covid-19 is in place in the NWT.
While the NWT restrictions have no doubt been effective at containing the disease, make no mistake that this has come at a great cost.
Jobs have been lost and local businesses will fail. Isolation has worsened the depression and anxiety many of us suffer. And many of those who are most susceptible to physical violence have been confined with their abusers.
We’ve been told repeatedly by GNWT officials that a vaccine for Covid-19 is 12 to 18 months away, much faster than the five to 10 years it normally takes to develop a vaccine. However, while it may take this amount of time to discover an effective vaccine, what is more important is when the vaccine is readily available in significant quantities in the NWT. Only then can it be used to immunize the population.
Currently, there are well over 100 candidate vaccines being developed and tested around the world. Most of these are still being evaluated in labs or being tested on animals. A select few have advanced to human trials, including one in Halifax. Typically, it takes years of human trials before there is confidence that a vaccine is safe, effective and ready for widespread use. These are not typical times.
The global race is on to find a vaccine for Covid-19. Though most experts are optimistic that a vaccine will be found, this is not a guarantee. For example, there has never been a vaccine developed for the AIDS virus, despite massive research and development efforts. Perhaps more importantly, even if a viable vaccine is developed somewhere in the world in the coming months, we in the NWT may find ourselves waiting last in line for it.
We should be learning our lesson on this now from our experience with rapid testing. The GNWT finally got its hands on a rapid testing unit this past week, many weeks after most provinces and even some northern mining companies.
Its use is very limited as there is a national shortage in the manufacture of needed test cartridges, and the NWT simply does not have the buying power or political might to compete with the provinces for access. The GNWT hopes that we will get more cartridges in the fall, but this is not a certainty.
A vaccine will have to be manufactured and distributed once it is discovered. This takes time and money, and there is no way that supply will meet the insatiable global demand. It is possible that a country that first develops and manufactures a vaccine will keep it to themselves until their needs are satisfied before it is sent elsewhere.
Fearing exactly this scenario, leaders of many countries are calling for the fair and equitable distribution of any vaccine.
All this to say that if a vaccine is developed in 12 to 18 months, it may be months or years after that before it is proven safe and is readily available in the NWT. We are at the end of the supply chain for most things, from apples to trucks to fast internet.
I wonder if our “Emerging Wisely” plan focuses too much on the magical silver bullet of a fast-tracked vaccine and does not give enough consideration to alternate plans should a vaccine fail to become available to us in anticipated time frames.
We have bought ourselves some breathing room with our effective Covid-19 containment measures over the past couple of months. I hope that our leaders use this time to think of a Plan B should efforts to access a vaccine fail to meet their target.