McMaster researchers look to prevent future long-term care outbreaks after $5M funding from feds

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McMaster researchers have launched what they call the largest single study on long-term care homes in Canada.

Long-term care facilities have been hit hard by COVID-19, with 70 per cent of the overall deaths in the country occurring in long-term care or nursing homes.

Researchers are looking to evaluate the effectiveness of vaccines in long-term care homes and possible reasons as to why outbreaks occurred. The information obtained will then be used to help prevent future outbreaks.

"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.

"We'll be mapping this information with other available data to better understand the spread of the virus and immunity across the province.”

The project at McMaster, 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.

"Our team members and residents are proud to be part of this cutting edge and important study," 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 are honoured to work with the McMaster team and other partners to conduct this groundbreaking investigation."

The research is receiving $5-million from the Federal Government’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) as part of Canada's Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats, an international network based at McMaster. It’s comprised of scientists, clinicians, engineers, social scientists, and other experts who are working collaboratively to help prevent future pandemics and mitigate global health threats.

Immunologist Dawn Bowdish, a co-principal on the project and professor of medicine at Mac, believes COVID-19 outbreaks are still 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," Bowdish said.

"Our research will influence health policy quickly because we are collaborating directly with provincial policymakers and COVID-19 decision-makers."

The research team is also working with scientific partners at the Ontario Ministry of Health, Public Health Ontario, the University of Toronto, the Health Sciences North Research Institute, St. Mary's General Hospital and the University of Waterloo.

PointClickCare Technologies and the Lung Health Foundation are supporting this research.

(Photo credit: McMaster University)

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