Long-term care homes have been at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, with 70 percent of COVID-19 deaths having occurred in long-term care or nursing homes.
The Government of Canada, through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF), is supporting a study led by McMaster University researchers aimed at understanding how well vaccination works in residents of long-term care homes and which factors may be directly linked to outbreaks.
Approximately $5 million is being provided for this study, one of the largest single studies focusing on long-term care homes in Canada.
The study, which is in partnership with Schlegel Villages, St. Joseph's Health System, and Health Sciences North Research Institute, will involve more than 2,000 residents, staff, and visitors of long-term care homes in Ontario over the course of a year.
"We aim to determine how well vaccination works in residents of long-term care homes and discover whether a resident's previous exposure to the virus or immune system response can protect them or make them vulnerable to further infection," says Andrew Costa, PhD, co-principal investigator of the study, and Associate Professor of health research methods, evidence, and impact at McMaster.
The team will also determine what factors within long-term care homes may be directly associated with outbreaks, and whether those homes with previous infections are likely to have future outbreaks.
"We'll be mapping this information with other available data to better understand the spread of the virus and immunity response across the province," adds Dr. Costa.
Co-principal investigator Dawn Bowdish, PhD, an immunologist and professor of medicine at McMaster, adds that outbreaks 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 says.
The research team is also working with scientific partners at the Ontario Ministry of Health, Public Health Ontario, University of Toronto, St. Mary's General Hospital and the University of Waterloo. PointClickCare Technologies and the Lung Health Foundation are also supporting this research.
"Our research will influence health policy quickly because we are collaborating directly with provincial policymakers and COVID-19 decision-makers," Dr. Bowdish explains.
"Our team members and residents are proud to be part of this cutting edge and important study," says James Schlegel, President and CEO of Schlegel Villages. "The results of this study will contribute greatly to a more robust understanding of COVID-19 in long-term care homes and will help us keep residents safe and healthy. We are honored to work with the McMaster team and other partners to conduct this ground-breaking research."
This study presents an important opportunity for our member organizations to continue to learn more about COVID-19, its transmission in long-term care homes and what effect vaccination is having on virus transmission. We have come a long way in our understanding of COVID-19 in the last year and the continued learnings will help in our fight against COVID-19 at St. Joseph's Health System and beyond."
David Wormald, President, St. Joseph's Health Centre Guelph, St. Joseph's Lifecare Centre Brantford, Vice-President, Elder Care for St. Joseph's Health System
"COVID-19 has taken an enormous toll on the elderly and studies like this one are needed so we can better protect them going forward," says Allison McGeer, MD, CITF Leadership Group member. "We encourage teams to work with those who can use the findings and implement them quickly, such as government, public health authorities, and key long-term care facility operators. This study is doing that."
"Sadly, seniors have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic," says Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer. "This research collaboration will enhance our understanding of vaccine-induced immunity in seniors living in long-term care homes in order to better protect these residents in future".