COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on long-term care facilities

Posted on Tuesday, March 2, 2021

“Over the course of one year, we will study the immune response of workers and residents in long-term care homes across Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia,”

— Dr. Amy Hsu

Long-term care facilities have been disproportionately burdened by COVID-19, accounting for about 60% of COVID-19 deaths nationwide, 70% if retirement homes are included. Not only are residents of these facilities particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 given their advanced age, reduced immune system capacity, and multiple underlying health conditions, but staff also face an increased risk of infection.

Investigators from the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine and Bruyère Research Institute have been awarded $3.5 million in funding for their cross-provincial study.

“Over the course of one year, we will study the immune response of workers and residents in long-term care homes across Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia,” explains Dr. Amy Hsu, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and an investigator at the Bruyère Research Institute.

The team will recruit over 3,500 residents and 2,500 workers from long-term care facilities in all three provinces and ask them for blood samples over several months. Their goal is to gain insight into how various immunity factors, such as antibodies, react to COVID-19 and/or vaccines.

“We will compare the immune response in individuals who previously had COVID-19, those who got vaccinated, and those who have not been infected,” explains co-principal investigator Marc-André Langlois, professor in the department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology and the Canada Research Chair in Molecular Virology and Intrinsic Immunity.

“By linking the information that we find from analyzing their blood to healthcare data, we will be able to follow individuals over time to look at their long-term outcomes following an infection and the duration of protection they get from a complete series of a COVID-19 vaccine. We will track the occurrence of adverse events and serious illness over time. More specifically, we will be closely analyzing the subgroup of antibodies, called virus neutralizing antibodies, that protect against new infections,” says Langlois, who helped originate Stop the Spread Ottawaan initiative aimed at accelerating vaccine development against the novel coronavirus that has transformed our way of life.

“We will use an app called CANImmunize, which is a pan-Canadian digital immunization tracking application developed by study co-applicant, Dr. Kumanan Wilson. We’ve modified it a little for long-term care facilities to allow each participant to have a record of which vaccine they received, when, and how long it was between their first and second dose,” explains Dr. Hsu. “We currently don’t have a tracking system for vaccines in long-term care in Canada. This platform will allow us to better track vaccinations in long-term care facilities in the future.” 

The Government of Canada, through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF), is providing a total of $8.5 million to support two studies investigating various aspects of immunity and people’s response to vaccines within long-term care facilities. The second study from St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto will include people in 72 long term care homes in the Greater Toronto Area and the Ottawa-Champlain region.

“These studies investigate the factors that have contributed to COVID-19's disproportionate impact on those living and working in long-term care facilities across the country,” states Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam. "Their results will support strategies to better protect residents and staff in these facilities.” 

Dr. Theresa Tam


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