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The Chinese are reported to be making serious progress on a vaccine – an engineer seen here in the Cells Culture Room laboratory at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing on April 29, 2020.


As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sow destruction around the world, the race to develop an effective vaccine has reached speeds rarely seen before.

There is much riding on it for humans everywhere, but those living in the country first able to manufacture the life-saving treatment are at an advantage. Citizens of that jurisdiction, wherever it is, will almost certainly be the first to have access to the drug, while those living elsewhere will have to wait, possibly for months or even years.

Countries likely to be waiting in the wings for their turn almost certainly include Canada.

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The urgency pulsing through the many novel coronavirus-related research initiatives currently under way is understandable. Not only are there potentially hundreds of thousands of lives at stake, but millions of jobs and potentially trillions of dollars in economic activity as well. That is why the global research community is working at such a frantic pace, and why politicians are preparing to waive normal regulatory standards and protocols in the interest of getting a drug to market as quickly as possible.

Right now, a team of researchers from Oxford seem to be the early favourite to declare victory first. Last week, they began vaccinating individuals for a subject study of 1,100 people. If early results indicate all is safe, they will commence a subject-trial of 5,000 in late May. Dr. Adrian Hill, director of the university’s Jenner Institute, told The Wall Street Journal that if the large trial offers the positive results they anticipate – something they expect to know by early September – then emergency distribution could begin as early as later that month.

Scientists associated with the project are working with a handful of manufacturing companies across Asia and Europe to prepare to crank out billions of doses of the vaccine as quickly as possible. Tens of millions have already been spent on the manufacturing process at factories in Britain and the Netherlands.

You can be assured, that the early benefactors of the discovery would not be Canadians. Or Americans, for that matter. Which is why well-financed scientists and researchers in the country south of us are determined to prevail in the pursuit of a vaccine.

What is my province or territory’s coronavirus lockdown like, and when will it be lifted? A guide

Coronavirus guide: Updates and essential resources about the COVID-19 pandemic

How many coronavirus cases are there in Canada, by province, and worldwide? The latest maps and charts

For the United States, winning the race to find a vaccine is a matter of pride. This is what they do. Which is why there is a project under way in the Trump administration that has been dubbed Operation Warp Speed, according to The New York Times.

The concept of the project is that major pharmaceutical and biotech companies would be indemnified for liability if the vaccine they pushed to get to market quickly happened to cause sickness or death.

Meantime, another group of scientists and billionaires in the U.S. have quietly put together a group that is being likened to a Manhattan Project for COVID-19. The Manhattan Project was the name given to the group of scientists who helped develop the atomic bomb as a means of ending the Second World War.

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This new group is looking at unconventional methods of defeating the virus, such as treating patients with a potent new mix of a drugs used against Ebola.

Pharmaceutical heavyweights such as Pfizer and Merck & Co., are also working on developing a vaccine. Pfizer has teamed up with Germany’s BioNTech SE. The company is also claiming it could possibly have something ready for emergency use as early as September or October.

The U.S. Congress has already approved US$3.5-billion in spending to secure doses of a new vaccine in advance of the product’s approval by regulators.

The Chinese are also reported to be making serious progress on a vaccine. Which is maybe why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has so far resisted calls by opposition politicians and certain sectors of the commentariat to eviscerate the Chinese government for any number of sins. He knows that we may need China in the event it comes up with a drug that could save millions of lives in this country.

As mentioned, there are well-intentioned scientists here working toward a vaccine but the odds of them beating the rest of the world in this race are long. The government has provided a pittance of financial support for the various projects under way, compared with what is being spent elsewhere.

The good news is a vaccine will almost certainly be developed this year. The bad news is Canadians will likely have to wait a long time before they’re able to benefit from it.

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Now that it is recommended you wear a face covering in dense public settings like grocery stores and pharmacies, watch how to make the three masks recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Written instructions available at The Globe and Mail

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters.

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