Hear from Canadian experts on what went wrong and what went right in Canada's response to this global crisis.
COVID-19 has exposed the undeniable gaps in our public health infrastructure and our pandemic preparedness system. In this three-part policy series moderated by Heather Bakken, Publisher at iPolitics, experts from Canada’s Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats at McMaster University discuss how governments could have responded better to the global crisis.
Policy Forum 1: COVID-19 Testing & Tracing
Canada was relatively slow in the beginning to test for COVID-19 and ramping up testing across the country, due in part to a lack of robust laboratory information systems and domestic testing equipment. What approaches did Canada take to administer testing and track progress and in what areas did they succeed or fall flat?
Dr. Fiona Smaill
Fiona Smaill is a Professor of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at McMaster University, a medical microbiologist for the Hamilton Regional Laboratory Medicine Program and consultant in infectious diseases and infection control and the research lead of the HIV clinic at Hamilton Health Sciences.
Dr. Smaill is actively involved in clinical trials in HIV management, the development of vaccines for tuberculosis, and management of infections in pregnancy. She is currently working with Dr. Zhou Xing to develop innovative recombinant viral-vectored COVID-19 vaccine strategies. Their team’s next-generation vaccines were designed to directly target respiratory mucosal immunity via an inhaled aerosol vaccine delivery method and express three select SARS-CoV-2 antigens to eventually induce the T-cell immunity.
Her other project involves developing an adenovirus-based vaccine for tuberculosis and has completed a successful Phase 1 clinical trial in healthy volunteers demonstrating the safety and immunogenicity of novel TB vaccine.
Dr. David Bulir
David Bulir is an Assistant Professor of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at McMaster University and an infectious disease physician-researcher from St. Joe’s Disease Diagnostics and Development (D3) Group.
Together with Dr. Marek Smieja, Dr. Bulir predicted the need for an alternative supply of testing materials for COVID-19 in January 2020. He also pictured and developed a new COVID-test and created a new transport medium. Dr. Bulir’s newly developed COVID-19 test has the ability to pool specimens, which enables labs to increase their testing capacity up to fourfold, and potentially more.
Dr. Bulir’s work has been instrumental because his method can detect a part of the virus that is less likely to mutate, and is very effective at distinguishing between COVID-19 and other coronaviruses.
Dr. David Earn
David Earn is a Professor of Mathematics and Faculty of Science Research Chair in Mathematical Epidemiology at McMaster University.
During his postdoctoral years, he became interested in applying math to biological problems and soon shifted focus entirely to biology, especially the epidemiology of infectious diseases. He is a recipient of a CIHR New Investigator Award, an Ontario Premier’s Research Excellence Award and a J.S. McDonnell Foundation Research Award.
Dr. Earn’s research is focused on visualizing and modeling patterns of infectious disease spread in human populations. He has published research pieces on the age-dependence of health interventions for COVID-19 and future COVID-19 development.
Policy Forum 2: The Canadian/Global Policy Response
With unique challenges posed by COVID-19, countries around the world cobbled together emergency responses to manage the pandemic. Governments struggled with striking the appropriate balance between mitigating economic costs while protecting public health. How did existing socio-political contexts exacerbate the effects of COVID-19 on marginalized communities? How could government responses have been improved to mitigate the harmful impact?
Dr. Steven Hoffman
Dr. Steven J. Hoffman is the Dahdaleh Distinguished Chair in Global Governance & Legal Epidemiology and a Professor of Global Health, Law, and Political Science at York University, the Director of the Global Strategy Lab, the Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Global Governance of Antimicrobial Resistance, and the Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Population & Public Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Dr. Hoffman also holds a courtesy appointment as a Professor of Health Research Methods, Evidence & Impact (Part-Time) at McMaster University. He is an international lawyer licensed in both Ontario and New York who specializes in global health law, global governance and institutional design.
His research leverages various methodological approaches to craft global strategies that better address transnational health threats and social inequalities. Past studies have focused on access to medicines, antimicrobial resistance, health misinformation, pandemics and tobacco control.
Dr. Michael Wilson
Mike Wilson is the assistant director of the McMaster Health Forum, an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Evidence and Impact, and a member of the Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis at McMaster University.
His research focuses on supporting the use of research evidence by policymakers. Mike leads the McMaster Health Forum’s rapid-response program, which provides evidence syntheses to respond to pressing policy issues within hours, days or weeks.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mike co-led a COVID-19 evidence support model through COVID-END (COVID-19 Evidence Network to support Decision-making – an international network of 50+ evidence synthesis and guideline groups in the world).
Using this model, he has also coordinated with 40+ evidence synthesis teams across Canada to respond to urgent requests from Canadian decision-makers that address public-health measures, clinical management, health-system arrangements, and/or economic and social responses related to COVID-19.
Dr. Chandrima Chakraborty
Chandrima Chakraborty is a Professor in the Department of English and Cultural Studies and Director of the Centre for Peace Studies. She was awarded the title of University Scholar at McMaster University in 2017 and was elected to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists in 2019.
Dr. Chakraborty’s research is on public memory, nationalist history, masculinity and religion, with a focus on the literature and cultures of South Asia and the South Asian diaspora. Her current research is on the differentiated effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on racialized and religious minorities with a focus on South Asian and East Asian Canadians, and Indian Muslims.
She is working on a co-edited book on COVID-19 and anti-Asian racism. Dr. Chakraborty is one of the research co-leads for Canada’s Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats.
Policy Forum 3: Lessons from COVID-19 Vaccine Development & Rollout
Though Canada fell short in manufacturing capabilities for COVID-19 vaccines, it outshined many other countries in vaccine rollout. Ensuring early investments in biotechnology, coordination between health authorities, and proactive sharing of global resources will be key to advancing future vaccine development and delivery. What lessons can Canada learn from the COVID-19 vaccine development and rollout processes and how can the government strengthen its health infrastructure to maximize readiness for future infectious respiratory disease outbreaks?
Dr. Matthew Miller
Matthew Miller is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences at McMaster University. He is also a member of the Institute for Infectious Diseases Research and the McMaster Immunology Research Centre.
During his time in New York, Dr. Miller’s research focused on characterizing the innate and adaptive immune responses to viral infection. Specifically, Dr. Miller’s work helped to define how broadly neutralizing antibodies against the influenza A virus is generated and functions in humans. He also discovered an unexpected role for Senataxin – a protein involved in several neurodegenerative disorders, including ALS – in regulating the antiviral response.
Dr. Miller is the lead author of the study on neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) that have been found to be capable of neutralizing the COVID-19 virus and one of the researchers at McMaster University that developed a new vaccine called the nanoparticle vaccine that could make seasonal flu shots more effective.
Dr. Zain Chagla
Zain Chagla is an Associate Professor at McMaster University, Co-Medical Director of Infection Control at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and a Consultant in Infection Control at Woodstock General Hospital.
Dr. Chagla is also a teacher at McMaster University where he won a clinician teaching award in internal medicine and a young investigator grant for his work in supporting undergraduate medical education at the University of Namibia.
As an infectious disease specialist, Dr. Chagla has given media interviews on the COVID-19 pandemic and published several op-eds on testing, disease elimination, and public health interventions. During the COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Chagla has contributed to local, provincial, and federal policy planning, and to several clinical trials on COVID-19 therapies.
Meet our Moderator: Heather Bakken, Publisher at iPolitics
Heather is the publisher and vice president of business development at iPolitics and QP Briefing. She currently serves as the president for World Press Freedom Canada, the past-president for the Canadian Club of Ottawa and founding president of the Ottawa Debating Society. Heather is a graduate of Ryerson University and received her certification in digital communications management strategy from the University of Toronto. Prior to joining iPolitics she taught media law at Algonquin College and was a broadcast journalist with CBC News.