Brampton, Mississauga, South Asian communities in GTA disproportionately hit by COVID-19


Published July 5, 2022 at 11:07 am

Brampton was the epicentre of a COVID-19 “hotspot” before the rollout of vaccines according to new research showing the pandemic’s impact on South Asian communities.

New research from McMaster University found that the Region of Peel accounted for 23.6 per cent of Ontario’s COVID-19 cases despite having just 10 per cent of the province’s population during the second wave of the pandemic in late 2020.

McMaster University researchers say Brampton was the centre of the Peel hotspot, and found that South Asians from Peel are at greater risk of COVID-19 infection.

“It is the sociodemographic factors, or social determinants of health, which place South Asians from the Peel Region at higher risk of COVID-19, compared to the general population,” said Sonia Anand, principal investigator for the study.

One third of participants in the study were essential workers through the pandemic, and 20 per cent lived in multi-generational households.

“These factors, along with lower socioeconomic status, are the primary determinants of the higher seropositivity rates in Peel’s South Asian community, instead of any innately biological cause,” she said.

McMaster University researchers say the results are from 916 participants enrolled in the study from April 14 to July 28, 2021.

Participants, recruited predominantly from vaccine centres, provided blood samples that were tested for the presence of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

Additional information on participants’ demographic characteristics, risk perceptions, and sources of COVID-19 information, was also collected.

The proportion of participants with antibodies reflecting prior infection was much higher than found in most other pre-vaccination era studies conducted in Canada at that time, with an infection rate of 24 per cent.

Anand, who is also a professor of the Department of Medicine, director of the Chanchlani Research Centre, and a senior scientist at the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) of McMaster and Hamilton Health Sciences, said collecting the data on past infections is vital for governments when prioritizing healthcare resources for at-risk communities.

While it was widely reported that South Asian communities were at higher risk of COVID-19, Anand said it was important to gather what she termed “quantitative metrics” to build the evidence base and to understand what factors accounted for the higher infection rate.

Dr. Catherine Hankins, Co-Chair of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, said the research was funded “to get a clearer picture of the factors underpinning the vulnerability of the region’s South Asian community.”

“Understanding the factors that rendered any community or region a hotspot for COVID-19 will not only help us manage future pandemics,” they said. “The insights can also inform Canada’s ongoing efforts to achieve more equitable health outcomes on a population-wide basis.”

Anand said that healthcare advocates had already pressured the provincial government to make Peel a priority area for vaccines, given its status as a COVID-19 hotspot.

“COVID-19 exposed the inequities in terms of healthcare access. What we found in this study has really driven that point home,” said Anand.

With files from The Canadian Press

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