The last thing Joss Reimer wanted to be growing up in rural southern Manitoba was a physician, but today she leads the province as the doctor in charge of vaccinations.
Reimer grew up just over an hour south of Winnipeg, in Winkler, Man. The community holds the status of a city now, but at the time she says it was very much a small town. "(It was) just a wonderful way to grow up," Reimer says.
"The freedom that you have as a child in a smaller place is really not comparable to the city. When I was growing up, right across the street it was just open wheat fields and so to be able to have the ability to just run around and play with your friends where you know you're safe and have that opportunity to experience the blend of nature and a town at the same time was wonderful and then this small community where people know each other. How they support each other is just second to none."
Listen to the full interview here:
Ironically, it was her father's busy schedule as a doctor that made her initially resist a career in medicine. Today, as the medical lead for Manitoba's Vaccine Implementation Task Force, she's busier than ever.
"I'm a little busier than I planned to be," she says with a laugh. "But I also got to see a lot of the great stuff about his job and the way you get to interact with your community and you spend your whole life trying to make things better. It was pretty inspiring to see. Even though when I was a kid it looked really hard and I didn't think that that was the way I wanted to go, I'm really glad that I ended up here because, this sounds really corny to say, but I mean it, I always wanted a job where I was making the world a better place. I feel like public health is such a great way to do that because I literally get paid every single day to try to make Manitobans healthier and happier. It just seems kind of surreal that somebody would pay me to do such wonderful work."
Reimer's also quick to point out that while she may be busy, she knows that others are facing even more difficult circumstances in the pandemic.
"My job has never been busier than it is right now, but it's hard to complain about that when you see what's going on in the community. So many people have lost their jobs, lost their income, have gotten sick, or have lost loved ones. I'm far from complaining about being too busy at work. That seems like such a small issue compared to what other people are facing with this pandemic. So yeah, I mean I certainly am trying to find a few ways here and there to balance out the work with anything else. But I'm definitely not complaining about having this much work when I see what some other people are going through."
On vaccine hesitancy
"Vaccine hesitancy" has become a common phrase as of late, describing those who are not necessarily dead-set against vaccines but are unsure about them for a variety of reasons. It's a term that Reimer says she herself doesn't enjoy.
"I know that people are asking these questions because they care about their health," she says. "They care about their families, their loved ones. So, I don't like the term vaccine hesitancy because I think it really is people who are asking questions because they want what's best for their families."
Didn't the vaccine come out too quickly to be properly trialled?
"This has all happened very quickly as far as the time on the calendar, but it hasn't happened with less attention than any other vaccine," Reimer says. "There's way more attention to what we're doing than any other vaccine because the whole world is doing this at the same time.
"So normally different companies are developing many different things at the same time. Different medications, different vaccines, different treatments, but instead everybody in the world just took all their resources and focused it on one vaccine. That really helped them go a lot faster than usual and they were able to use the Messenger RNA (mNRA) technology that they started developing back in the SARS days and had been working on since then."
While the vaccines seem brand new to many people, Reimer says that isn't actually the case, because they are part of the research that began with SARS. Both COVID-19 and SARS are caused by coronaviruses. The virus that causes SARS is known as SARS-CoV, while the virus that causes COVID-19 is known as SARS-CoV-2.
"They were really able to take advantage of, a decade of research, and build very quickly from there to respond to this virus, so that also helped them go a lot faster."
People also worry that the quick timeline meant that too many steps were skipped in the process of approving vaccines. Reimer says that is not true, though.
"Even in the approval process, they didn't skip any steps. Again, because everybody at Health Canada was focused in on one thing they were able to do it a lot faster because there was nothing else taking up their time and all of their resources went towards paying attention to this.
"So it does feel new and that makes it feel scary, but I want to reassure people that we didn't skip any steps. We made them go through every single trial and study and show the same results that they had to for any other vaccine that we've used. We have long-term data from other vaccines showing how beneficial they are to society."
To hear more of her explanations surrounding the vaccine you can listen to the full interview here.
Seeing family and volleyball
The doctor says she's most excited about just getting to see family and friends again once the pandemic is over. "And, I gotta say, I'm really looking forward to playing sports again."
A lover of many sports, she says beach volleyball is a definite favourite.
"Fingers crossed if we can get a whole bunch of vaccines in over the next month or two maybe we'll even get a season this summer a little bit... I think Manitobans feel the same way. They just want to get out, see people, and enjoy the summer."