National study to assess the health impact of a pandemic and possible long-term effects of COVID-19

A young woman sits with her back against a beige sofa on the floor of a living room and wears a mask while sitting at her laptop.

Photo: Vlada Karpovich/Pexels

About 8,000 blood test kits and surveys are being sent to homes in Nova Scotia as part of a national study to assess the health impact of the pandemic and potential long-term effects of the virus.

“Overall, this will give us a better view of how Canadians have been faring and what they are bringing forward, and how you can then best anticipate what services and supports may be needed,” said the COVID co-chair -19 Immunity Task Force, Dr. Catherine Hankins said in an interview.

The survey will be mailed to 100,000 Canadians in 10 provinces this spring. The first wave of 2,494 survey and test kits was mailed to randomly selected households in Nova Scotia in April. Another 2,718 were shipped on May 10, and the final 2,718 will be shipped next month.

“We need to get a good feel for how many Canadians actually have COVID…some people may not even have been aware that they actually had an asymptomatic infection at any given time,” Hankins said.

“This gives us a much better idea of ​​how much immunity there is across the country and puts us in a better position to then provide information on vaccine-related policies, e.g. B. whether additional doses are required and if so, for whom. Because it’s not really over yet.”

Led by Statistics Canada, the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) and the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canada COVID-19 Antibody and Health Survey will provide details on how to fill out an online questionnaire and finger-prick dry blood stain (DBS) test kits .

These blood spot tests will help researchers better understand how many Canadian adults ages 18 and older have infection-related or vaccine-induced antibodies (or both) to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“Now, maybe more than last year, people really want to know, ‘Am I showing antibodies?’ It (DBS test) will tell you if you have vaccine-caused antibodies or infection-acquired antibodies, or if you have both, which would mean hybrid immunity,” Hankins said.

“If you’re selected, you’re actually pretty lucky because you’ll be able to get some information about your own status that isn’t readily available.”

A smiling woman with short dark curls wearing a black blazer and dark necklace appears to be standing on a rooftop and smiles at the camera.

dr Catherine Hankins, Co-Chair of Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force. Photo: Task Force COVID-19 Immunity

Hankins said the dried bloodstain test will also help researchers better correlate chronic symptoms with COVID-19 infection.

“If we can see the antibodies, that confirms that while your symptoms aren’t related to COVID, it at least shows you’ve had it,” she said. “It strengthens the data in the overall survey even for long COVID.”

The latest wave of the survey, sent out this month, will include a saliva PCR test to look for active infections. This will help researchers better estimate the number of Canadian adults who have or have had SARS-CoV-2 infection at a time when PCR testing has plummeted nationwide.

“The task force is very interested in the immunity component, which is how many people actually have antibodies,” Hankins said.

“And with the saliva sample, how many people have infections at this point if they do the saliva sample? It would give us a better idea of ​​how many asymptomatic infections occur when people don’t even use an antigen test because they don’t have symptoms.”

More than a long COVID survey

While the study began as a survey looking at how many Canadians were infected and have either recovered or have ongoing symptoms, Hankins said it was more than a lengthy COVID survey. She described it as a look at SARS-CoV-2 exposure and the experiences of patients with ongoing symptoms and their difficulties in accessing healthcare.

“Any viral infection can lead to chronic symptoms that take a while to resolve, so it’s important to clarify whether these symptoms are actually directly related to COVID? Are they related to two years of stress,” Hankins said, adding that even if the symptoms aren’t related to COVID, patients still need help.

“We’re seeing a slightly higher incidence (of long COVID) in women than men, so what’s the point? Everyone was stressed, but there was added stress for women and it’s going to be really important to try to sort that out.

Hankins, who is also a professor in McGill University’s School of Population and Global Health, said the survey and test kits are designed to provide the most representative sample of Canada’s population aged 18 and older.

For this reason, it is important that you do not give any of the survey kits that you have received in the mail to anyone else in your household.

“You’ve been chosen to represent your demographics and your geography, so your age, your gender, etc., so you’re representing other people of the same age, gender and geography, you’re kind of a sentinel,” Hankins said.

“So far only 19.1% participation rate”

Pandemic-related changes in the way health care was delivered led to a decline in early detection of things like cancer and even simple blood pressure checks, especially in the early days. Hankins said this survey will also help paint a picture of how potentially late diagnoses could affect Canadians and their prognosis for various diseases.

“There’s a lot to do, waiting lists everywhere depending on what you want to get, and so many healthcare workers who got sick and remain sick are still sick,” she said.

“We’re not at full capacity yet, I don’t think… Everyone wants this to be over and it’s so important that we actually look at how best to design our healthcare services to support people in the future.”

The first batch of surveys and test kits sent out to Nova Scotians in April have only had a 19.1% participation rate so far. The response was highest in British Columbia at 20.1%.

Hankins said anyone who received the first survey kit in April but has yet to fill it out is encouraged to do so.

This final round of surveys is considered the second cycle of the Antibody and Health Survey. The first cycle was conducted in late 2020 and early 2021, when 3,600 Nova Scotians were among the 48,000 Canadians who were sent blood test kits and surveys.

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