How can we better protect paramedics from COVID-19? Researchers aim to find out

Study will also determine how many paramedics have had COVID-19 and will investigate how long antibodies last

Paramedics are at high risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but details of what puts them most at risk of exposure have not yet been studied. This is why the Government of Canada, through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF), is supporting a new study to look at risk factors associated with COVID-19 amongst paramedics. Approximately $2 million has been provided for this study that will also examine infection rates and immunity measures, including paramedics who have already been vaccinated.

“This group of essential workers is instrumental to getting Canadians through this pandemic,” says Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam. “The more we can reduce infection among paramedics, the better the emergency response of our healthcare system will be,” she explains. “In addition, this study will give us valuable information about the duration of immunity.”

“We actually know very little about the risks of contracting COVID-19 associated with the different tasks paramedics must perform in the course of their duties,” says Catherine Hankins, MD, PhD, CITF Co-Chair. “Paramedics treat people who potentially have SARS-CoV-2 infection, providing care in close proximity and transporting patients in confined spaces. They routinely provide emergency medical treatments which may put them at higher risk of exposure and infection, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for cardiac arrest.”

This new study is actively recruiting 5,000 paramedics in British Columbia (BC) and Ontario. These provinces are home to 52% of Canada’s paramedics. Participants will be asked to complete surveys and give blood samples three times over a one-year time period. 

“Our study will investigate workplace factors that may increase exposure to infection. Administering certain treatments, like those that generate aerosols for example, may benefit from enhanced workplace infection control strategies,” explains study Principal Investigator, Brian Grunau, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia.

“The results will help identify factors and protocols that affect the risk of infection among paramedics and provide evidence to inform workplace health and safety guidelines aimed at protecting paramedics from becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2,” adds Co-Principle Investigator, Tracy Kirkham, PhD, Assistant Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

“In order to assess risk factors and investigate immunity, we will measure antibodies in blood samples to determine how many paramedics have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 already, including those who were asymptomatic,” says Dr. Grunau. “For those who test positive, we will study how long their antibodies last over the course of the year.”

Antibodies are part of the body’s method of fighting infection and provide a level of immunity to reinfection. For COVID-19, it is unknown how long antibodies to the virus remain in the blood. By measuring antibodies over time, this study will help provide information on how long they may contribute to a person’s immune response.

Paramedics in BC and Ontario wanting to learn more information or participate in the study are invited to go to omc.ohri.ca/CORSIP/.

The study is supported by several different organizations in both provinces, including BC Children’s Hospital, the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences, BC Emergency Health Services, Paramedic Association of Canada, Ambulance Paramedics of BC, Public Service Health and Safety Association, and unions representing Ontario paramedics.

ABOUT THE COVID-19 IMMUNITY TASK FORCE 

In late April 2020, the Government of Canada established the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force with a two-year mandate. Working virtually, the Task Force Leadership Group is a representative set of volunteer experts from across the country who are focused on understanding the nature of immunity arising from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and the prevalence of that infection in the general population, specific communities, and priority populations. The Task Force and its Secretariat accordingly work closely with a range of partners, including governments, public health agencies, institutions, health organizations, research teams, other task forces, communities, and stakeholders. Most recently, the Task Force has been asked to take a major role in supporting vaccine surveillance for effectiveness and safety. Our overriding objective is to generate data and ideas that inform interventions aimed at slowing and ultimately stopping the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Canada. For more information visit: www.covid19immunitytaskforce.ca

MEDIA CONTACTS

COVID-19 Immunity Task Force
media@covid19immunitytaskforce.ca

Rebecca Burns, Cell: +1.438.871.8763
Caroline Phaneuf, Cell: +1.514.444.4532

Interviews with Dr. Brian Grunau and BC paramedics:

Elaine Yong, Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences
Cell: +1.604.837.6003 | eyong@cheos.ubc.ca

Interviews with Dr. Kirkham and Ontario paramedics:

Heidi Singer, Dalla Lana School of Public Health | University of Toronto
+1.416.571.7569 | heidi.singer@utoronto.ca