FRONT PAGE: One In Five Vaccinated Long-Term Care Residents Were At Risk Of COVID Because Of Low Antibody Levels, Supporting Need For Booster Shots

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Newswise — HAMILTON, ON, November 16, 2021 – New research from McMaster University, aimed at understanding the immune response to COVID-19 vaccines, found some long-term care residents no longer had high antibody levels months after their second dose, directly supporting government decisions to provide third doses.

The study, supported by the Government of Canada through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF), found over 97 per cent of residents produced an initial antibody response that is likely to provide protection against the virus.

Researchers found that the antibody levels of about 20 residents dropped by around 5% after the second dose. This suggests that the immune response is not strong enough to protect against the virus. The vaccines have been effective in nursing homes. However, we must be vigilant about how vaccines and other measures protect vulnerable residents,” stated Andrew Costa, co-lead for Canada’s Global Nexus taskforce on Long-Term Care Crisis Management, Renewal, and Schlegel Chairs in Clinical Epidemiology, Aging and McMaster. “The study continues to shed light on risks that might lie ahead.”

About 70 per cent of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred in long-term care or nursing homes.

” Although it is obvious that antibody levels decrease after the second vaccine dose, this does not mean one is more susceptible to illness as there are other factors that influence one’s immunity. Costa said that although the antibody decline in long-term care residents was much greater than that seen in younger, healthier Canadians, it is still prudent to take a third dose to prevent more sickness and deaths.

Researchers also looked at immune responses to Moderna’s SpikeVax and Pfizer-BioNTech’s Cominarty vaccines. Both vaccines produced good antibodies, but Moderna had the strongest response, as it contains more mRNA. There are several reasons it may make sense to use SpikeVax/Moderna for third doses or for frailer and older people. “It has a higher level of active ingredient, which sometimes helps give the elderly immune system a boost. This is similar to the high-dose influenza vaccine that we give to older adults.” Dawn Bowdish, immunologist and professor at McMaster, said Dawn Bowdish, coauthor and co-principal investigator. “The longer interval between first and second doses may also have given the immune response more time to mature.”

The study, which was conducted in partnership with Schlegel Villages, St. Joseph’s Health System and Health Sciences North Research Institute, was published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Directors Association and was based on blood samples taken from 138 residents in eight long-term care homes throughout Ontario between March and July 2021. James Schlegel, President & CEO of Schlegel Villages, stated that the study was supported by residents, staff, and loved ones. He said that they were proud to participate and are grateful for their support. “Likewise, the team of researchers at McMaster is to be commended for getting these critically important results to decision-makers quickly so we can do all we can to ensure those who are most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 are as protected as possible.”

“We are proud to be part of this important research with McMaster University that aims to understand the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines in long-term care residents,” said David Wormald, Vice President, Elder Care, St. Joseph’s Health System. “The pandemic has been especially difficult for residents and gaining a better understanding of residents’ immune response will enable homes to be safer as we continue to confront the challenges posed by COVID-19.”

“The resident population in long-term care homes, due to their advanced age and poorer overall health, experience faster waning of antibodies following vaccination compared to younger, healthier populations,” states Tim Evans, CITF Executive Director. “While the findings from CITF-funded studies like this one support the need for a third vaccine dose for this population, it remains to be determined if this will confer an adequate long-term antibody response and therefore other infection prevention and protective measures in seniors’ homes continue to be of the utmost importance.”

The research team is also working with scientific partners at the Ontario Ministry of Health, Public Health Ontario, University of Toronto, St. Mary’s General Hospital and the University of Waterloo. PointClickCare Technologies, the Lung Health Foundation and others are supporting this research.

About the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force

The Government of Canada established the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) in late April 2020 to catalyze, support, fund, and harmonize research on SARS-CoV-2 immunity for federal, provincial, and territorial decision-makers in their efforts to protect Canadians and minimize the impact of the COVID-19. To date, the CITF has supported over 100 studies across Canada that are generating critical insights on the levels, trends, nature, and duration of immunity arising from SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 vaccination. A Leadership Group, which includes top scientists and policymakers from Canada, oversees the CITF. The Task Force and its Secretariat collaborate closely with a variety of partners, including government, institutions, health organisations, research teams, and other stakeholders. For more information visit: http://www.covid19immunitytaskforce.ca

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The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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