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One reader believes that if the 'National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg comes up with a vaccine for this coronavirus, Canada should only offer it to the Chinese government' – people in Wuhan, China seen here on Jan. 29, 2020 – 'when it frees the two Canadians detained for over a year.'wanghe/Getty Images

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Lab results

Re Country’s Third Likely Case Of Virus Reported In B.C. (Jan. 29): If the great National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg comes up with a vaccine for this coronavirus, Canada should only offer it to the Chinese government when it frees the two Canadians detained for over a year.

Brian Murphy Calgary

Re Study Highlights Barriers To Ebola Vaccine’s Creation (Jan. 17): As an inventor of the Ebola vaccine at the National Microbiology Laboratory and a manager of those who worked on trial lots, our experience was that it was actually developed with unprecedented speed.

In most of the world, we depend on for-profit companies to make vaccines. If the federal government were to take a vaccine to market, it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and years to build the capacity for its manufacture.

It would also create a thorny legal dilemma, with the government as both manufacturer and regulator.

And prior to 2014, there was a minuscule market for an Ebola vaccine; large pharma was not interested in developing one. As well, there were never any budget cuts specific to the Ebola project, before or during the Harper years. Although we are sure the former prime minister didn’t know the finer points of all of this, his government did cheer us on.

It’s true that our manufacturing partner NewLink Genetics did not do what it had promised. But the NML did, so that the vaccine was ready for humans in 2014.

It should be viewed as a good thing that the vaccine was quickly relicensed to Merck, which was able to manufacture and distribute it in the face of the 2014 epidemic.

If not for this, the Ebola vaccine would still be in freezers – in a way, NewLink delivered more than promised. The world now has a vaccine for this terrible disease. It is a Canadian achievement that should be hailed, not criticized.

Frank Plummer MD, FRCPC, distinguished professor emeritus, University of Manitoba; Winnipeg

Steven Jones PhD, vice-provost of health sciences, University of Saskatchewan; Saskatoon

A century ago, Canada gave the world insulin and we have been reaping the reputational rewards ever since.

With the creation of an effective Ebola vaccine, our public-sector scientists gave us a chance to repeat the story. So what did our government do with a product “unlikely to turn a profit?” Why, pass it on to a startup company taken over within a year by another player, and thence to the mighty Big Pharma company Merck.

No profit you say? A day ago, Merck was right at the heart of a major PBS news story applauding its generosity in getting the vaccine to patients in Africa.

And that kind of publicity is likely to turn a handsome profit indeed when any government tries to fight Big Pharma’s price-gouging in the court of public opinion.

Now Canada gets portrayed as a bit player and, worse, contributing to years of delay in getting a remarkable life-saving medical product to the people who desperately need it.

Michael Poulton Halifax

Group therapy

Re The Doctor Won’t See You Now (Folio, Jan. 18): The 3,000-plus members of the Ontario Association of Mental Health Professionals are acutely aware of the gaps in the continuum of mental health care.

It is a frequent topic of discussion for medical and allied medical mental health professionals.

By “allied medical,” I am referring to the 7,000-plus registered psychotherapists and the thousands of other professionals who, as of Jan. 1, have been regulated to practice the controlled act of psychotherapy in Ontario. Embracing all professionals is crucial.

We should see the mending of the mental health gap as a multidiscipline project where all types of accredited – and, more importantly, available – professionals are called upon to make the system workable.

While there is no easy fix, there are some practical remedies available to be found with our current resources.

When MD, PhD and masters-level regulated professionals are able to combine their time, talents and technology into a true model of collaborative care, I believe we can do better.

Suzanne Dennison President, Ontario Association of Mental Health Professionals; Toronto

Regarding the shortage of psychiatrists in Canada, long-term psychotherapy can be an important part of life-saving care for those with complex diagnoses, as highlighted by the patient perspectives in the Psychotherapy Saves series on YouTube.

In researching my November, 2019, article in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice, I found that such outpatients typically need about one year of therapy to achieve a recovery of 75 per cent, whereas the benefits of short-term therapy are usually brief.

Long-term psychotherapy has also been found to be cost-effective by resulting in fewer work absences and hospitalizations.

The root cause of the shortage seems to lie with the stigma against mental illness and its treatment, which makes it harder to recruit and to retain psychiatrists. There should be room for everyone at the table because practice diversity gives patients access to the best possible tools for achieving optimal mental health.

Renata Villela President, Ontario District Branch of the American Psychiatric Association; Thornhill, Ont.

As someone who has been struggling with an eating disorder for more than a decade, I have experienced the gap in psychiatric services in this country firsthand.

When I was hospitalized, I would have access to a psychiatrist. However, once I was out of an inpatient setting, my family doctor managed my medication – something she didn’t feel like she had the expertise to do. I live just outside Ottawa, but my doctor still wasn’t able to refer me to a specialist in the city. Luckily, I ended up finding a psychiatrist in Brockville, Ont. Even so, I waited about three months for an appointment.

Unfortunately, it is not just outpatient services that seem lacking in Ontario. I discovered that eating disorders treatment centres at the Ottawa Hospital and Toronto General Hospital are currently sharing a psychiatrist who splits her time between the two programs – even the most acute patients have difficulty accessing her.

Psychiatric human-resources planning and care should change with the times.

It is important for the future health and well-being of the country.

Hilary Thomson Kemptville, Ont.

One-two punch

Re Rolling With The Punches (First Person, Jan. 28): The essay-writer is an enthusiastic 65-year-old woman learning to box at a boxing club. She writes that it’s helped her ignore her osteoarthritis and cancer treatments. Sounds like me with the same conditions at 89 – but I would need to find a sit-down boxing club.

There are none in my neighbourhood.

Helen Sinfield Hansen Guelph, Ont.

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