The GNWT plans to test blood samples from NWT residents to look for antibodies that developed from natural infection and immunization to the virus that causes COVID-19.
The Chief Public Health Officer will work in partnership with the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, and Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency, to collect discarded blood samples of NWT residents going back to April 1, 2022.
To reduce all risk of identification, donors’ names will be removed from the blood (serum) samples. The samples will be identified only by the age of the donors, and the date and region where the serum was collected. As well, the blood will be gathered and aggregated by age group. This will ensure that no individual donor’s information is available.
The samples will be sent to Canadian Blood Services’ research laboratory to test for the prevalence of antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibodies are proteins that the body produces to protect itself from infection. However, this study will be able to distinguish whether antibodies have developed due to previous infection or due to vaccination. Canadian Blood Services will not have access to any residents’ personal information.
Many Canadian provinces have conducted seroprevalence surveys for SARS-CoV-2 throughout the pandemic to better understand the extent of COVID-19 spread in their populations. For more information on this, please visit the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force website. The planned NWT survey, funded by the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, is believed to be the first that will exclusively target a northern territory.
Like other regions of Canada, the NWT is no longer tracking individual cases of COVID-19. Instead, the NWT is tracking severe outcomes of COVID-19 (hospitalizations, ICU admissions, deaths) and monitoring wastewater for changes over time (7-day periods) to detect high or increasing levels of COVID-19 activity in a community. Surveying blood samples will be another way to monitor and assess the impact of COVID-19 to optimize health-system planning.
“While there were over 10,000 reported cases of COVID-19 in the Northwest Territories before April 1, 2022, the true number of cases is much higher. This information will help us understand the total population immunity and prepare for the impact of future waves of COVID-19,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola.
Between April 1, 2022, and August 31, 2022, there have been 43 total severe outcomes attributed to COVID-19 in the NWT.
4 intensive care unit admissions
There have been no hospitalizations for COVID-19 of children under the age of five since April 1, 2022.
The NWT plans to conduct seroprevalence surveys in four different time periods with different variants of SARS-CoV-2:
- April 1, 2022 – lifting of Public Health Emergency, period of Delta/Omicron BA.1 infections (retrospective)
- June 1, 2022 – Spring wave of Omicron BA. 2 (retrospective)
- Sept 1, 2022 – After the BA.5 variant became the primary variant (retrospective)
- January 31, 2023 – Infections during the fall and early winter season to include high-risk holiday period.
The surveys will provide important population immunity information about the NWT’s unique COVID-19 experience within Canada. The NWT avoided the first three waves of the virus, then experienced significant spread of the virus through community transmission.
The GNWT takes the privacy of its residents seriously and wants to assure the public that all blood samples will remain anonymous. Under the Public Health Act, the GNWT has the jurisdiction to collect personal health information if the Chief Public Health Officer believes it is required for public health surveillance. The Act also allows the GNWT to disclose health information that does not identify the individual to whom it relates. A legal and privacy review of this initiative has been completed.
Dr. Kandola believes the public health threats of future waves of COVID-19, and new variants of the virus that cause the disease, are substantial and warrant having the NWT participate in serological studies to appropriately plan for any sudden increases in demand on the health system. All results from the studies will be made available to the public.
Wastewater Monitoring Expansion
Aside from COVID-19 testing, wastewater monitoring in the NWT has expanded to include Influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Results will be posted here, on the COVID-19 section of the Department of Health and Social Services website.
For media requests, please contact:
Health and Social Services
Government of the Northwest Territories
Phone Number 867-767-9052 ext. 49034
Jean Phillippe Rochette
COVID-19 Immunity Task Force