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New COVID-19 vaccine tracker developed by McGill scientists shows status of vaccines

McGill Professor of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health Dr. Nicole Basta and her team released a COVID-19 vaccine tracker on Oct. 26. The website is now available for the public to see real-time updates on vaccines that are being developed. The tracker displays information about at least 50 vaccines currently in human trials. In addition to being a tracker, the website also provides general information about vaccines and why they are important. 

As of Nov. 2, the tracker reveals that there are 116 trials in progress across 33 countries. For each trial, users can see the name of the company, the trial’s current phase, and the type of vaccine that the company is working on.

Basta’s team, who has compiled data and structured the tracker, includes other McGill professors, graduate students, and recent alumni. Dr. Erica Moodie, a McGill professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational Health, is a member of the team. In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Moodie explained why a COVID-19 vaccine tracker is important.

“[Our team] created the tracker because we saw a need for comprehensive information with a global overview on the progress towards a vaccine,” Moodie said. “The public health measures that we have in place now, [such as] masking, physical distancing, and hand-washing, are important elements of controlling the pandemic, and will continue to be needed even once a vaccine has been approved, but a vaccine remains one of the most powerful tools we hope to have to manage the pandemic.” 

Basta’s team is excited to see that their resource is useful for everyone, not necessarily just scientists or academics.

“We are seeing thousands of visits daily, with the website being accessed around the globe, so it is exciting to see that we really are provided a much-needed informational resource,” Moodie said.

One Canadian vaccine followed by Basta’s tracker is being developed by Medicago, a Canadian biotechnology company which recently signed an agreement with the Canadian government to supply up to 76 million doses of its plant-derived vaccine upon approval. Currently, Medicago’s vaccine is in phase one, and still has a ways to go until it is approved for distribution, but McGill Professor of medicine Dr. Brain Ward, who is currently working on this trial as Medigo’s medical officer, told The McGill Tribune that this vaccine is likely to progress to the next phases soon.

“We’re producing a virus-like particle vaccine that delivers the ‘S’ protein using plants as the bioreactor,” Ward said in an interview with the Tribune. “We’ve completed our phase one and will be entering phase two/three in the next two to three weeks.”

While the COVID-19 tracker does not have a direct impact on the work that researchers like Ward are doing, Manuela Tomic, B.Sc ‘19 and a member of Basta’s team believes that their project provides the public with an understanding of the international effort to combat COVID-19. 

“It’s important to highlight the global-collaborative aspect of our tracker page,” Tomic said. “Researchers around the world are working around the clock in order to develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. [With] multiple vaccines on the horizon chances are we’ll end up with multiple vaccines for the novel coronavirus.” 

Katie Gravagna, a member of Basta’s team and master’s student in the Faculty of Sciences, also thinks that the tracker is a crucial part of making information about the pandemic accessible to those not in the medical community. 

“This tracker plays an important role in providing the information that people want to know about these vaccine candidates and their development in a way that everyone can engage with,” Gravagna said.

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