takes root.

In 2017 a group of business leaders had the foresight to identify as a social impact priority that Canada needed to be prepared for future pandemics and its short-, medium-, and long-term impacts on human health, including brain health.

When COVID-19 was just beginning to grow into a global pandemic in March 2020, they raised the concern that this respiratory virus could enter the central nervous system, or otherwise impact the brain. This led to the questions: what would be the consequences; and will we be prepared with answers and solutions? These questions were not unprecedented, as post-pandemic brain health impacts had been documented in previous viral pandemics, going back centuries.

The questions led to the creation of a non-profit venture called Viral Neural Exploration (VINEx) in April of 2020. The growth of VINEx mirrored a growing recognition that the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic would not end for everyone after vaccination. The phenomenon of “Long COVID” was first raised by researchers and clinicians, and then by people with lived experience—most notably in Canada, the COVID Long Haulers Support Group Canada—who were beginning to organize on social media, and finally by public health officials and governments.

VINEx began publishing a bi-weekly newsletter “the Grapevine” to curate the growing base of scientific and mainstream media publications. We wrote several opinion pieces, including several published in The Globe & Mail and Financial Post.

On October 20, 2022, VINEx joined with Senator Stan Kutcher to lead the development and dissemination of a call to action for a pan-Canadian strategy to address Long COVID. Contributors and signatories included representatives from throughout the ecosystem of health advocates. In October 2022, the federal government committed $20 million to research post-COVID-19 impacts, and its Chief Scientist released a the Report “Post-COVID-19 Condition in Canada: What We Know, What We Don’t Know  and a Framework for Action” in December 2022.

But this is only the start of the story. The brain health impacts of a virus point to a larger issue of the intersection of the environment and brain health. The World Health Organization has named this a “One Health” approach, defined as “an integrated, unifying approach to balance and optimize the health of people, animals and the environment. It is particularly important to prevent, predict, detect, and respond to global health threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The approach mobilizes multiple sectors, disciplines and communities at varying levels of society to work together. This way, new and better ideas are developed that address root causes and create long-term, sustainable solutions”.

In March of 2023, in Ottawa, VINEx was invited by the Public Health Agency of Canada to discuss Canada’s efforts to shape the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Pandemic Preparedness Instrument. Already in 2022, VINEx was part of WHO’s public consultations as a civil society stakeholder.

In the future, VINEx will continue to bring attention to the fact that the brain exists within the human system and in a broader environment. The health of our brains is therefore linked to our overall health and to environmental factors—such as climate change, pollution, and viruses and other infectious agents. We need to accelerate multidisciplinary research that can bring together the scientific and other leadership that is needed to address this complex challenge.

Rocket Health Science | Vinex