Safe facilities will help deliver effective COVID-19 vaccines in eastern Canada

Upgrading two Halifax-area facilities with higher safety measures means researchers in Halifax can develop and test COVID-19 vaccines
Colleen Seto
Dalhousie University
Nova Scotia
A close up of a vaccine phial besides various superimposed imageswith 3D graphics of a virus layered over a picture of a pair of gloved hands in a laboratory

The entire world anxiously awaits word of an effective COVID-19 vaccine, but the process is a massive undertaking, and delivery of a vaccine that is effective for everyone everywhere is complicated. With new funding from the CFI, researchers at Dalhousie University, along with Halifax’s IWK Health Centre, Canadian Center for Vaccinology and Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, are upgrading two facilities to be able to safely work with the virus to pave the way for that process to run smoothly in eastern Canada.

“No single vaccine is going to be able to take care of the world for COVID-19,” explains David Kelvin, lead researcher for Dalhousie’s interdisciplinary vaccine team. For example, a vaccine that is effective for young, healthy people might not work as well for elderly people who would respond better to a vaccine tailored to boost antibody responses, Kelvin explains.

“The entire world is going to need millions and millions of doses so we need multiple vaccines
from multiple manufacturers to hit all the various groups.”

And since vaccines are made to target particular strains of a virus, and different strains could be present in different regions of the country, it’s important to continually monitor the circulating virus in each region for mutations, he says. “We see this happen in flu strains. Sometimes the approved vaccine doesn’t quite match with the circulating strains and it’s not as effective.”

It’s also unlikely that one vaccine manufacturer can provide enough for everyone. “The entire world is going to need millions and millions of doses so we need multiple vaccines from multiple manufacturers to hit all the various groups,” says Kelvin.

COVID-19 vaccines to be tested in upgraded Halifax facilities

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To meet these challenges, the two Halifax-area facilities will be upgraded with the necessary safety and security measures to contain infectious pathogens like SARS-CoV-2. Doing so will accommodate the development and testing of COVID-19 vaccines and anti-virals, along with testing for which strains of the virus are actually circulating in the region.

The newly upgraded facilities in Nova Scotia will be integral to creating a regional approach to combatting infectious disease, which Kelvin says is critical to an effective national strategy. “Each region needs its own testing facility to look at specific outbreaks in each area,” he says. “You don’t want to transport virus from one region to another. We need our own infrastructure to meet the needs of Canadians.”