Hamilton, ON (July 5, 2022) – A COVID CommUNITY – South Asian study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) Open has found that South Asian communities living in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) suffered disproportionately from COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic. The Government of Canada, through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF), invested approximately $1.5 million in this study to understand vaccine confidence and hesitancy in this population that has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

McMaster University researchers found the Regional Municipality of Peel, home to a large South Asian Canadian community, emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot before the local rollout of vaccines starting in April 2021.

During the second wave of the pandemic in late 2020, the Peel Region accounted for 23.6 per cent of Ontario’s COVID-19 cases, despite having just 10 per cent of the province’s population. The City of Brampton was the hotspot’s epicentre.

These results are from 916 participants enrolled from April 14 to July 28, 2021. Participants, recruited predominantly from vaccine centres, provided blood samples that were tested for the presence of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Additional information on participants’ demographic characteristics, risk perceptions, and sources of COVID-19 information, was also collected.

The proportion of participants with antibodies reflecting prior infection was much higher than found in most other pre-vaccination era studies conducted in Canada at that time, with an infection rate of 24 per cent.

“It is the sociodemographic factors, or social determinants of health, which place South Asians from the Peel Region at higher risk of COVID-19, compared to the general population,” said Sonia Anand, principal investigator for the study.

“One third of participants in this study were essential workers through the pandemic, and 20 per cent lived in multi-generational households. These factors, along with lower socioeconomic status, are the primary determinants of the higher seropositivity rates in Peel’s South Asian community, instead of any innately biological cause,” she said.

Anand, who is also a professor of the Department of Medicine, director of the Chanchlani Research Centre, and a senior scientist at the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) of McMaster and Hamilton Health Sciences, said collecting the data on past infections is vital for governments when prioritizing healthcare resources for at-risk communities.

She added that, while the media had widely reported that South Asian communities were at higher risk of COVID-19, it was important to gather what she termed “quantitative metrics” to build the evidence base and to understand what factors accounted for the higher infection rate.

“The differential toll of COVID-19 on the Peel Region was widely recognized early in the pandemic. We funded this research to get a clearer picture of the factors underpinning the vulnerability of the region’s South Asian community,” says Dr. Catherine Hankins, Co-Chair of the CITF. “Understanding the factors that rendered any community or region a hotspot for COVID-19 will not only help us manage future pandemics. The insights can also inform Canada’s ongoing efforts to achieve more equitable health outcomes on a population-wide basis.”

Anand said that healthcare advocates had already pressured the provincial government to make Peel a priority area for vaccines, given its status as a COVID-19 hotspot.

“COVID-19 exposed the inequities in terms of healthcare access. What we found in this study has really driven that point home,” said Anand.

About McMaster University

McMaster University, one of four Canadian universities listed among the Top 100 universities in the world, is renowned for its innovation in both learning and discovery. It has a student population of 34,000, and more than 195,000 alumni in 162 countries. The Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine has a global reputation for educational advancement, and is internationally known for its research intensity and development of evidence-based medicine.

About the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI)

PHRI, a joint research institute of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences, is a world leader in clinical trials, large population health studies and epidemiology expertise. PHRI has the capacity to conduct several international studies concurrently, with as many as 10,000 participants in a study. More than 80 studies are currently underway nationally and globally. Overall, PHRI research encompasses 1.5 million participants in 102 countries on six continents. Founded in 1999 by Dr. Salim Yusuf, who remains PHRI’s executive director, the institute’s success is a story of global collaboration and innovation through trans-disciplinary research including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, perioperative and surgery, stroke and brain health, infectious diseases, and more. For more information, visit phri.ca and on Twitter @PHRIresearch.

About Hamilton Health Sciences

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) is a hospital system of 15,000 staff, physicians, researchers and volunteers that proudly serves south central Ontario residents. We also provide specialized, advanced care to people from across the province. HHS is the only hospital in Ontario that cares for all ages, from pre-birth to end-of-life. We offer world-leading expertise in many areas, including cardiac and stroke care, cancer care, palliative care and pediatrics. We are a world-renowned hospital for healthcare research. We focus daily on improving the quality of care for our patients through innovation and evidence-based practices. As the largest employer in the Greater Hamilton region, HHS plays a vital role in training the next generation of health professionals in collaboration with our academic partners, including McMaster University and Mohawk College.

About the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force

The Government of Canada established the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) in late April 2020 to catalyze, support, fund, and harmonize research on SARS-CoV-2 immunity for federal, provincial, and territorial decision-makers in their efforts to protect Canadians and minimize the impact of the COVID-19. 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 engaging communities and stakeholders. To date, the CITF has supported over 100 studies across Canada that are generating critical insights on the levels, trends, nature, and duration of immunity arising from SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 vaccination. The CITF is overseen by an Executive Committee of volunteers that includes leading scientists and policymakers from across Canada.

More information:

Anand SS, Arnold C, Bangdiwala S, Bolotin S, Bowdish D, Chanchlani R, de Souza R, Desai D, Kandasamy S, Khan F, Khan Z, Langlois M-A, Limbachia J, Lear S, Loeb M, Loh L, Manoharan B, Nakka K, Pelchat M, Punthakee Z, Schulze K, Williams N, Wahi G. Seropositivity and risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 infection in a South Asian community in Ontario: a cross-sectional analysis of a prospective cohort study. CMAJ Open 2022 July 5. DOI:10.9778/cmajo.20220031


A picture of Sonia Anand may be found at https://bit.ly/3bIpsbT



Media contacts:

Veronica McGuire
Media Relations, Faculty of Health Sciences
McMaster University
M: 289-776-6952

Wendy Stewart
Communications & Public Affairs
Hamilton Health Sciences

Heather Angus-Lee
Population Health Research Institute (PHRI)
M: 905-308-0038

Rebecca Burns
Communications Advisor
COVID-19 Immunity Task Force
Cell: +1.438.871.8763

The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the Public Health Agency of Canada.