New Canadian antibody study to investigate COVID-19’s spread, why it hits vulnerable

A massive new Canadian study aims to discover more about how and why the pandemic has hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

COVID-19 spread like wildfire at many Montreal seniors’ homes including Vigi-DDO, where Karen Squires’ elderly mother caught the virus.

“I think people were walking around with it, not knowing that they had it and they were coming in there,” Squires told Global News.

The virus also disproportionately affected under-served neighbourhoods like Montreal North and Côte-des-Neiges, where mistrust in medical authorities may have stopped residents from going to get tested.

Read more: After delay, family caregivers allowed to enter hard-hit West Island seniors’ home

“There is a mistrust that exists because of the history of people of color and the medical field, and that is something that the wider community has to be a little bit more sensitive about. That is something that is a real issue in our community in terms of mistrust between us and in the institutions,” said Tiffany Callender, Côte-des-Neiges Black Community Association Executive Director.

There are huge gaps in what we know about the spread of the virus, and that’s why Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force has teamed up with CanPath, a group of about 330,000 Canadians who have already agreed to be studied for medical research.

“It follows the health of those Canadians and has been following the health of those Canadians for the past 10 or 13 years now,” said Dr. Philip Awadalla, National Scientific Director of Canpath.

About 100,000 of those people from across the country have already agreed to have their blood analyzed for COVID-19 antibodies. The Government of Canada is investing $1.9 million into the project.

“Waiting for people to get symptomatic and testing them to find virus is is insufficient to understand what’s really going on,” said Dr. Tim Evans, executive director of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.

Read more: Quebec hits 60,000 COVID-19 cases, antibodies detected in blood donors

“Those will be including lower sociodemographic or socioeconomic brackets, communities living in long-term care homes, communities that are more hard hit,” explained Awadalla.

They also want to better understand the effects on people with pre-existing conditions.

“Weight, smoking habits and others may play an important role,” Evans said.

Click to play video 'New study examines COVID-19 antibodies in pregnant women' 3:43 New study examines COVID-19 antibodies in pregnant women

New study examines COVID-19 antibodies in pregnant women

Squires’ mother survived COVID-19 even though she has high blood pressure and heart problems, and she wonders how.

“It’s a big question,” she said.

Callender hopes people from marginalized communities will help interpret the data, as it will be used by the government to make future decisions.

“So who is at the decision-making table? Aare they reflective of the diversity that you’re seeking in terms of the research and data you want to collect?” she wonders.

The project is the latest in a growing number of sero-prevalence studies that are now underway

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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