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SFU researchers encourage community to get vaccinated
Based on public health guidance, B.C.’s universities are preparing for the possibility of a full return to in-person education for the Fall 2021 semester. Vaccination is an important tool to limit the spread of COVID-19 and allow people to return safely. B.C. Provincial Health Officer (PHO) Bonnie Henry has indicated that anyone in B.C. who wishes to be vaccinated will have access, to at least a first dose, before the Fall term.
Back on Campus Advisory Group
In addition to the PHO, SFU’s planning for the fall is being informed through recommendations by a number of internal advisory groups made up of faculty, staff and students. The Office of the Vice-President, Research and International leads a pair of working groups, including the Back On Campus (BOC) Advisory Group that is providing data-driven advice to support the return to campus planning.
“The BOC Advisory Group leverages SFU knowledge and expertise in virology, infectious diseases, immunology, mathematical modeling, evolutionary theory, bioinformatics, epidemiology, health policy and mental health. We are bringing forth evidence-based recommendations to safely scale-up on-campus activities in preparation for the fall 2021 semester,” says Dugan O’Neil, Vice-President, Research and International.
All members of the SFU community should be vaccinated for COVID-19
Building on the guidance from the PHO, one of the strong recommendations from this group is that all faculty, staff and students get vaccinated as soon as they are able to do so. To encourage this, members of the BOC Advisory Group bring together their collective expertise to discuss common themes related to these new vaccines.
Approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe
Canadians now have access to four approved vaccines. These vaccines have gone through rigorous approvals by Health Canada, complying with global norms and standards to ensure safety and efficacy. These standards are constantly being evaluated with the latest data. Over 6 million people in Canada and nearly 400 million worldwide, have been vaccinated with ongoing vaccine safety monitoring. “The speed with which COVID-19 vaccines were developed and tested speaks to the power of improved collaborations among scientists and governments around the world toward a common goal,” says Kelley Lee, SFU Health Sciences Professor and Canada Research Chair in Global Health Governance. “Personally, I have just added myself onto a waiting list at my local pharmacy to get the AstraZeneca vaccine,” adds Lee.
According to the latest figures from the federal government, while the number of vaccine doses administered have increased over time, the rate of serious reports of side effects has remained low, at 0.008% of all doses administered. The most frequently reported side effects, which were not considered serious, were common injection site reactions: pain, redness, swelling and itching.
“It is understandable that there are public concerns with the recent news about the AstraZeneca vaccine on top of the stress and anxiety for many people in year two of this global pandemic,” says Kevin Douglas, SFU Psychology Professor. “However, the current data continues to be reassuring, showing that effects of contracting COVID-19 pose a much greater health risk than the chance of a severe side effect from current COVID-19 vaccines,” adds Ralph Pantophlet, SFU Health Sciences Associate Professor and Scientific Director of SFU’s Containment Level 3 Lab.
Approved COVID-19 vaccines are effective
Scientific evidence shows that COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be effective at preventing infection and preventing disease, both in clinical trials and in real-world settings. Several countries worldwide that have had most of their population vaccinated are now seeing plummeting numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Data continues to be collected and analysed on new variants of the COVID-19 virus that have been detected in B.C. and globally. Health officials and scientists around the world are working diligently to understand how variations of the virus affect the virus’s behaviour, including their impact on the effectiveness of vaccines. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and recent published literature, the COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved are known or expected to provide at least some protection against current virus Variants of Concern. While there is more to learn about the continually evolving variants, the BOC Advisory Group maintains that rolling out mass vaccinations quickly and widely as possible is the best tool to control COVID-19 and limit the emergence of more viral variants.
COVID-19 impacts people of all ages
It is important reaffirm the WHO message that people of all ages can be infected by COVID-19. “Opting out of getting a vaccination not only means you are putting yourself at risk of getting COVID-19, with the potential for long-term health effects, but you are also risking transmission of the virus to someone else with potentially dire consequences,” says Mark Brockman, SFU Health Sciences and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Professor. “The ability of vaccines to prevent infection means that by getting vaccinated, you are not only protecting yourself, but others around you. If enough people are vaccinated, the combined direct and indirect impacts can protect whole populations for long periods of time,” adds Caroline Colijn, SFU Mathematics Professor and Canada 150 Research Chair in Mathematics for Infection, Evolution and Public Health.
The BOC Advisory Group says that we should expect COVID-19 cases to continue to occur in the general population, including the SFU community, even after most of the population is vaccinated. “However, as we saw in the past with many other communicable diseases, vaccination will provide the best chance to manage the disease,” adds Amy Lee, SFU Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Professor.
Back on Campus Advisory Group committee members
Fiona Brinkman, Professor, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Co-Lead, Data Analytics, Canadian COVID-19 Genomics Network
Mark Brockman, Professor, Health Sciences, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Jonathan Choy, Associate Professor, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Caroline Colijn, Professor, Mathematics, Canada 150 Research Chair in Mathematics for Infection, Evolution and Public Health
Kevin Douglas, Professor, Psychology
Amy Lee, Assistant Professor, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Kelley Lee, Professor, Health Sciences, Canada Research Chair in Global Health Governance
Richard Lockhart, Professor, Statistics and Actuarial Science
Dugan O’Neil, Vice-President, Research and International pro tem, Professor, Physics
Ralph Pantophlet, Associate Professor, Health Sciences, Scientific Director, Containment Level 3 Lab