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.
Now McMaster University researchers are beginning one of the largest single studies focusing on long-term care home in Canada to find out how well vaccination works in residents in long-term care, and which features of these homes may be directly linked with outbreaks.
The Government of Canada, through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF), is supporting the study with almost $5 million.
Pandemic research centre located at McMaster
The project is part of Canada’s Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats, an international network based at McMaster, with scientists, clinicians, engineers, social scientists and other experts working collaboratively to prevent future pandemics and mitigate global health threats.
The new study, 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.
About the study, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Theresa Tam, said: “These researchers will contribute to our understanding of COVID-19 and of vaccine-induced immunity in seniors living in long-term care homes, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Vaccines are a critical tool in our response, and this research will support their most effective use.”
“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,” said Andrew Costa, co-principal investigator of the study, and associate professor of health research methods, evidence, and impact.
Prevention or mitigation of future outbreaks
The team will also determine what features of 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 across the province,” he said.
Co-principal investigator Dawn Bowdish, an immunologist and professor of medicine, adds 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.
Said James Schlegel, president and CEO of Schlegel Villages. “The results of this research 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 into the future.”
“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,” said David Wormald, president of St. Joseph’s Health Centre Guelph and St. Joseph’s Lifecare Centre Brantford, and vice-president of 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,” said Allison McGeer, MD, CITF Leadership Group member. “This study is doing that.”
Learn more about the project