The Government of Canada is investing approximately $1.2 million through Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) to support four studies of correctional service employees and individuals incarcerated in Canadian correctional facilities. The studies will determine how many of these individuals have antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and involve several federal institutions across the country and provincial prisons in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Quebec.
The research will help the CITF better understand how many incarcerated individuals and correctional staff have had COVID-19 and will help inform planning for the need for vaccine follow-up in these congregate settings.
Participation in the studies is completely voluntary. Anyone can withdraw their participation at any time. All participants will be given the opportunity to learn their serology test results confidentially.
“COVID-19 outbreaks in correctional facilities have significant impacts on incarcerated individuals and staff,” states Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam. “These studies will help us develop more effective strategies to prevent the introduction and spread of the virus within these facilities.”
Researchers will offer multiple tests to those in federal institutions to see what happens to antibody levels. “Understanding how antibody levels change over time is a first step to understanding the risk of re-infection,” says Correctional Service Canada study lead researcher Dr. Michael Martin, Acting Director of Epidemiology.
“We take our responsibility for the safety of those within our correctional facilities very seriously, including those who are most vulnerable,” states the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. “Investing in these studies will allow us to improve on the measures that we are implementing to protect staff, incarcerated individuals, and local communities.”
Researchers in British Columbia and Quebec will study both incarcerated individuals and corrections workers in provincial facilities while those in Saskatchewan will recruit only people living in correctional settings.
Provincial facilities house a greater number of incarcerated individuals and have higher turnover rates than do federal institutions. Significant movement in and out of these settings can introduce SARS-CoV-2 infection both within and outside correctional facilities.
“Daily movement of staff in and out of correctional facilities can introduce SARS-CoV-2 infection inside, and contribute to transmission outside,” states Dr. Nadine Kronfli from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, Principal Investigator of the Quebec provincial prisons study. “It is important for us to focus on both populations to inform public health policy recommendations.”
“COVID-19 has important psychosocial implications on incarcerated individuals, which researchers should be sensitive to,” explains Dr. Alexander Wong from the University of Saskatchewan, Principal Investigator of the Saskatchewan provincial facility study. “The stigma of having a positive COVID-19 antibody test in a correctional facility is considerable, so significant efforts are being made to ensure that results remain confidential.”
“Many incarcerated individuals face fewer job and housing prospects upon release, and these issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic, making reintegration back into society particularly challenging during this time,” explains Dr. Sofia Bartlett from BC Centre for Disease Control, a lead investigator of the British Columbia provincial facilities study. “People experience many psychosocial consequences during and after incarceration, so knowledge of their COVID-19 serostatus may provide a level of reassurance to people who are incarcerated and assist them in adjusting to life after they return to their community.”
“We want to protect the health and safety of individuals who are incarcerated and who are working in these congregate settings,” says Heather Scriver, Saskatchewan’s Assistant Deputy Minister of Custody, Supervision and Rehabilitation Services. “The study will provide valuable information about any changes that may assist our programming in Saskatchewan.”
“The CITF is supporting these priority studies among correctional populations not only through its funding, but by facilitating collaboration between the studies to share methods, tools, and experiences to obtain more accurate and comparable results, faster,” concludes Dr. Catherine Hankins, CITF co-chair and coordinator of the Correctional Serology Network.
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. The Task Force is overseen by a Leadership Group of volunteers that includes leading Canadian scientists and experts from universities and healthcare facilities across Canada who are focused on understanding the nature of immunity arising from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. To that end, the CITF is supporting a range of studies to determine the extent of SARS-CoV-2 infection in Canada (in the general population as well as in specific communities and priority populations), understand the nature of immunity following infection, develop improved antibody testing methods, and help monitor the effectiveness and safety of vaccines as they are rolled out across Canada. 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 support vaccine surveillance, effectiveness and safety as part of its overall objective 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
COVID-19 Immunity Task Force
Rebecca Burns, Cell: +1.438.871.8763
Caroline Phaneuf, Cell: +1.514.444.4532
To arrange an interview about the B.C. study:
Provincial Health Services Authority, +1.778.867.7472
To arrange an interview about the Quebec study:
Fabienne Landry, McGill University Health Centre
To arrange an interview about the Saskatchewan study:
Victoria Dinh, USask Media Relations
For media inquiries related to Correctional Service Canada: