Canadian study investigates immune response and vaccine hesitancy among Canada’s South Asian communities

HAMILTON, Ontario, June 03, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Government of Canada, through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force and Vaccine Surveillance Reference Group is supporting a new pan-Canadian study that will investigate the immune response to the COVID-19 vaccine within the South Asian community. Approximately $1.5 million is being invested in this study, which will seek to understand vaccine confidence and hesitancy in this population that has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Canada’s South Asian communities are the fastest growing ethnic group in Canada, and are among the highest at-risk populations for illness from COVID-19. South Asians have a five to 10-fold higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and a 1.5 to two-fold higher mortality risk after SARS-CoV-2 infection, compared to white Canadians.

The study of 3,000 South Asians in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in Ontario and the Greater Vancouver Area (GVA) in British Columbia (B.C.) will seek to understand if these ethnic differences can be explained by unique socio-cultural factors, such as multigenerational households, occupational factors such as doing essential work, and biological factors such as pathophysiological differences in susceptibility or response to infection and vaccination.

Participants in the study—called COVID CommUNITY-South Asian—will also include those from earlier studies in the GTA and GVA led by the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences.

“Our study is a prospective cohort study—meaning we enroll participants at the community vaccination clinics being held in South Asian ‘hot spots’ such as Brampton, and the rest of the GTA, and follow them forward in time to collect contextual information including their living and work conditions, clinical and health care access information,” said Sonia Anand, principal investigator of the study. Anand is a professor of medicine at McMaster, vascular medicine physician at Hamilton Health Sciences, a senior scientist at PHRI, and director of the Chanchlani Research Centre at McMaster. “This is a more targeted approach to conducting a study, rather than ‘after the fact’ approaches, such as inferring ethnicity by last name or by postal code in participant data,” she said.

“South Asian communities across Canada have been hit hard by the pandemic and it’s vital that they understand the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. This study will also help us understand why some people may be hesitant about being vaccinated,” said Scott Lear, the lead principal investigator in B.C. and a professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University.

“It is critical that we increase vaccine uptake for all Canadians, but we know that the South Asian community will need specific attention and targeted outreach, particularly given the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on this ethnocultural community,” said Lawrence Loh, co-investigator and Medical Officer of Health, Peel Region, Ontario. “This study will allow us to understand where there is hesitancy, use the science to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of Health Canada approved COVID-19 vaccines, and lead to more people within the South Asian community making the choice to accept this life-saving vaccine.”

“It is imperative that we study the immune response to vaccines not only in the general population, but in priority populations, such as the South Asian community,” says Scott Halperin, co-chair of the Vaccine Surveillance Reference Group and principal investigator of the Canadian Research Immunization Network. “We need to ensure that the level of antibodies achieved is comparable across various populations.”

The COVIDCommUNITY-South Asian study involves an interdisciplinary team of experts and strong collaborations with public health and South Asian community organizations. Along with Sonia Anand and Scott Lear, co-investigators include McMaster University’s Dawn Bowdish (immunology), Russell de Souza (epidemiology), Mark Loeb (infectious diseases), Sujane Kandasamy (qualitative research), Gita Wahi (pediatrics), Rahul Chanchlani (health services research) and Zubin Punthakee (epidemiology). The team also includes Shrikant Bangdiwala, Senior Scientist and Director, Statistics, PHRI, and Shelly Bolotin (sero-epidemiology) from Public Health Ontario and the University of Toronto.

About McMaster University

McMaster University, one of four Canadian universities listed among the Top 100 universities in the world, is renowned for its innovation in both learning and discovery. It has a student population of 34,000, and more than 195,000 alumni in 162 countries. The Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine has a global reputation for educational advancement, and is internationally known for its research intensity and development of evidence-based medicine.

About the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI)

PHRI, a joint research institute of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences, is a world leader in clinical trials, large population health studies and epidemiology expertise. PHRI has the capacity to conduct several international studies concurrently, with as many as 10,000 participants in a study. More than 80 studies are currently underway nationally and globally. Overall, PHRI research encompasses 1.5 million participants in 102 countries on six continents. Founded in 1999 by Dr. Salim Yusuf, who remains PHRI’s Executive Director, the institute’s success is a story of global collaboration and innovation through trans-disciplinary research including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, perioperative and surgery, stroke and brain health, infectious diseases, and more. For more information, visit phri.ca and on Twitter @PHRIresearch.

About Hamilton Health Sciences

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) is a hospital system of 15,000 staff, physicians, researchers and volunteers that proudly serves south central Ontario residents. We also provide specialized, advanced care to people from across the province. HHS is the only hospital in Ontario that cares for all ages, from pre-birth to end-of-life. We offer world-leading expertise in many areas, including cardiac and stroke care, cancer care, palliative care and pediatrics. We are a world-renowned hospital for healthcare research. We focus daily on improving the quality of care for our patients through innovation and evidence-based practices. As the largest employer in the Greater Hamilton region, HHS plays a vital role in training the next generation of health professionals in collaboration with our academic partners, including McMaster University and Mohawk College.

About the Vaccine Surveillance Reference Group

The Vaccine Surveillance Reference Group (VSRG) supports the monitoring of the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in Canada. It is a consortium of Canadian organizations — the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the Canadian Research Immunization Network (CIRN), the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), and the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) — working collaboratively to pool expertise on vaccine surveillance. The VSRG reports to PHAC and is supported by the CITF Secretariat. It is co-chaired by the leaders of NACI and CIRN. Among its responsibilities, the VSRG, through the CITF Executive Committee, makes recommendations to PHAC on funding research teams that can address important aspects of the immune response, safety, and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines with public health relevance and with attention to all priority groups. For more information visit: covid19immunitytaskforce.ca/vaccine-surveillance-referencegroup-vsrg/

About the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force

The Government of Canada established the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force in late April 2020. The Task Force is overseen by a Leadership Group of volunteers that includes leading Canadian scientists and experts from universities and healthcare facilities across Canada who are focused on understanding the nature of immunity arising from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. To that end, the CITF is supporting numerous studies to determine the extent of SARS-CoV-2 infection in Canada (in the general population as well as in specific communities and priority populations), understand the nature of immunity following infection, develop improved antibody testing methods, and help monitor the effectiveness and safety of vaccines as they are rolled out across Canada. The Task Force and its Secretariat work closely with a range of partners, including governments, public health agencies, institutions, health organizations, research teams, other task forces, and engages communities and stakeholders. Most recently, the Task Force has been asked to support vaccine surveillance, effectiveness and safety as part of its overall objective to generate data and ideas that inform interventions aimed at slowing—and ultimately stopping—the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Canada. For more information visit: www.covid19immunitytaskforce.ca

Editors:
A photo taken at the Brampton vaccination clinic, and photos of Sonia Anand, Scott Lear, and Lawrence Loh may be found at https://bit.ly/2SPdHqt

For information, please contact:
Veronica McGuire
Media Relations
Faculty of Health Sciences
McMaster University
289-776-6952
vmcguir@mcmaster.ca

COVID-19 Immunity Task Force
media@covid19immunitytaskforce.ca
Rebecca Burns
Cell: +1.438.871.8763
Caroline Phaneuf
Cell: +1.514.444.4532


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