A $5-million study co-led by CHEPA member Andrew Costa and Dawn Bowdish, an immunologist and professor of medicine at McMaster, and which includes Arthur Sweetman among a large group of co-investigators, will involve more than 2,000 residents, staff and visitors of long-term care homes in Ontario to measure the far-reaching impact of COVID-19.

The study, funded by the Canadian COVID-19 Immunity Task Force and in partnership with Schlegel Villages, St. Joseph’s Health System, and Health Sciences North Research Institute, will determine how well vaccination works in residents of long-term care homes and discover whether a resident’s immune system or previous exposure to the virus can protect them or make them vulnerable to further infection. 

The study, one of the largest of its kind, will also determine whether there are features of these long-term care homes that are directly associated with outbreaks, and whether those homes with virus occurrences are likely to have future outbreaks.

“This is one of the largest studies in Canada, and it is important as long-term care homes have been the epicentre of the pandemic across the country,” Costa says. “We’ll be mapping this information with other available data to better understand the spread and immunity across the province.”

Co-principal investigator Bowdish added that outbreaks of infection can still be expected, despite widespread vaccinations.

“Although most residents are dangerously susceptible to COVID-19, some are resilient. Learning about how the immune system helps some residents teaches us how to make better vaccines and protect residents from future outbreaks.” she said.

The research team is working with scientific partners at the Ontario Ministry of Health, Public Health Ontario, University of Toronto, the Health Sciences North Research Institute, St. Mary’s General Hospital and the University of Waterloo. Supporting this research is Point-Click-Care Technologies and the Lung Health Foundation.

Bowdish says the research will have fast impact on health policy. “Because we are collaborating directly with provincial policymakers and COVID-19 decision-makers, we expect to have immediate impact.”

The study, expected to take about 12 to 18 months, involves residents, staff and visitors who are donating blood and saliva samples to study immunity and infection.

Schlegel Villages homes from Windsor to Whitby; St. Joseph’s Health System’s homes in Dundas, Brantford and Guelph, and three homes in the Sudbury area by Health Sciences North Research Institute are participating.

To read an article in the Hamilton Spectator about the research, click here.


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