The COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) and the Vaccine Surveillance Reference Group (VSRG) are announcing a new study led by Sunnybrook researchers, which seeks to better understand the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination in patients with chronic kidney disease.

“People living with chronic kidney disease, including those on dialysis, are less likely to mount an adequate immune response to the COVID-19 vaccines, which puts them at higher risk for COVID-19 infection and severe complications,” says Dr. Matthew Oliver, co-principal investigator of the study and Head of Nephrology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “The results of this study will provide critical information to inform immunization guidelines and public health recommendations for the nearly four million patients living with chronic kidney disease in Canada.”

The study — jointly led by Dr. Oliver and Dr. Michelle Hladunewich, Chief of Medicine and Associate Scientist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre — builds upon previous research from the principal investigators, which demonstrated that a large proportion of hemodialysis patients have a low antibody response after the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. This indicates the need for these patients to receive their second dose, according to the manufacturer’s recommended two-dose schedule for optimal protection.

“Our research also revealed that some patients do not build significant immunity even after a second dose of vaccine,” says Dr. Hladunewich. “By continuing to monitor the safety and efficacy of vaccines in this extremely at-risk population, we can develop better recommendations to support this group.”

The research study, a collaborative effort between Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University Health Network, Unity Health, Ontario Renal Network, BC Renal Agency and Ontario’s ICES (formerly Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences), will look at vaccination effectiveness in patients with chronic kidney disease compared to those without chronic kidney disease, through a population-based analysis in both Ontario and British Columbia. The second component of the study will analyze the serological response to vaccination and the duration of that response in patients with chronic kidney disease, including those on dialysis. The COVID-19 vaccines that will be included in this study are Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD, Johnson & Johnson and any others that are approved by Health Canada over time.

“The results of this study will impact nearly four million Canadians who live with chronic kidney disease,” says Dr. Scott Halperin, Co-Chair of the VSRG. “We need to have a vaccination strategy for all Canadians and that includes this very at-risk population. If even two doses of a vaccine don’t give them a strong enough immune response to keep them from getting seriously ill, we must ensure people with chronic kidney disease continue to protect themselves in other ways.”

About Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre is inventing the future of health care for the 1.3 million patients the hospital cares for each year through the dedication of its more than 10,000 staff and volunteers. An internationally recognized leader in research and education and a full affiliation with the University of Toronto distinguishes Sunnybrook as one of Canada’s premier academic health sciences centres. Sunnybrook specializes in caring for high-risk pregnancies, critically ill newborns and adults, offering specialized rehabilitation, and treating and preventing cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological and psychiatric disorders, orthopaedic and arthritic conditions and traumatic injuries. The hospital also has a unique and national leading program for the care of Canada’s war veterans.

About the Vaccine Surveillance Reference Group

The Vaccine Surveillance Reference Group (VSRG) supports the monitoring of the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in Canada. It is a consortium of Canadian organizations—the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the Canadian Research Immunization Network (CIRN), the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), and the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF)—working collaboratively to pool expertise on vaccine surveillance. The VSRG reports to PHAC and is supported by the CITF Secretariat. It is co-chaired by the leader of CIRN and the former chair of NACI. Among its responsibilities, the VSRG, through the CITF Executive Committee, makes recommendations to PHAC on funding research teams that can address important aspects of the immune response, safety, and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines with public health relevance and with attention to all priority groups.

About the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force

The Government of Canada established the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) in late April 2020. 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 numerous 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 work closely with a range of partners, including governments, public health agencies, institutions, health organizations, research teams, other task forces, and engages 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.


Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
Samantha Sexton
Communications Advisor

COVID-19 Immunity Task Force:
Rebecca Burns
Cell: +1.438.871.8763
Caroline Phaneuf
Cell: +1.514.444.4532