Our Funded Research
The COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) is proud to fund Canada’s leading minds in the areas of Immune Science, Seroprevalence Studies, Optimization of Immunologic Testing, Vaccine Surveillance, Pediatric Vaccination, Boosters, various Cross-Cutting Themes, and Immunity Modelling. In collaboration with multiple partners, all of the studies funded by the CITF are feeding the scientific body of knowledge about COVID-19 and should contribute important data and information to support a comprehensive and coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our funded research by category
CITF funds diverse categories of SARS-CoV-2 research across Canada from basic immune science to vaccine surveillance. This pie chart gives a basic overview of the number of studies we are funding per category, although several studies straddle multiple categories.
Our funded research by population
CITF-funded studies include a wide variety of different populations across Canada from pediatric to long-term care. This pie chart gives a basic overview of the number of studies we are funding by population.
Our funded research covers all of Canada
The CITF aims to be as inclusive of all Canadians as possible, and that includes with respect to geography. We fund studies from coast-to-coast-to-coast across Canada. This map shows the number of research projects active in each province and territory.
An important part of our Task Force’s mandate is to share information with other researchers, the public and policy makers. We use Maelstrom, a research group based at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal that has developed a standard approach to documenting and disseminating epidemiological study metadata. The links to Maelstrom throughout our Funded Research pages will be of most interest to researchers, as for each CITF-funded study it lists: general study characteristics, targeted populations, data collection events, and data dictionaries.
We Support Research in Priority Areas
We support seroprevalence studies focussed on assessing how many Canadians have antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. People with antibodies have either likely a) had SARS-CoV-2 and have developed some form of immunity (see our Immune Science area), what is called “infection-acquired immunity,” or b) have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and have what is called “vaccine-induced immunity”. Estimating seroprevalence continues to be highly important in the vaccine era. Vaccine rollout in the real world is not going to follow ‘textbook’ results, due to the rise of variants of concern, the deviation of dosing schedules from what was used in clinical trials, and potential mix & matching of different types of vaccines. In addition, we don’t yet know how long immunity lasts and therefore when an additional dose of vaccine may be needed. Seroprevalence will therefore continue to be a useful broad mechanism to survey people’s immune responses at a macro, population level.
All vaccines approved in Canada go through rigorous testing during clinical trials and are given approval by Health Canada prior to use. That said, as millions of Canadians get vaccinated against COVID-19, the ongoing monitoring of both the effectiveness and safety of the various vaccines authorized in this country are of utmost importance. The CITF is contributing to ongoing monitoring and has launched several studies relating to comprehensive vaccine surveillance efforts across Canada. A consortium of Canadian organizations, including the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the Canadian Research Immunization Network (CIRN), the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) and the CITF, are collaborating through the CITF’s Vaccine Surveillance Working Party to identify studies that will support the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines across Canada.
Despite considerable advances in our understanding of the immune system in relation to SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, there remain many questions related to understanding immunity. Individuals who become infected generate antibodies to the virus, but the evidence does not yet definitively show that antibodies are fully protective from future reinfection. Although studies we have funded suggest an immune response lasts up to eight months, more research must be done to ascertain the complexities of the immune response, whether it prevents re-infection, and how long that immune response will last.
Optimization of Immunological Testing
All the work of the above priorities, be it related to monitoring trends in SARS-CoV-2 infection with immune measures and/or assessing the degree and durability of immune protection from infection or vaccines, is dependent on accurate measures of immunity. Ensuring precise and trustworthy immune testing is therefore central.
The research we catalyze and fund in this category includes ongoing safety monitoring to ensure we know immediately if ever an issue were to arise. Our funded research also looks at a variety of questions such as: What are the effectiveness and immunogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 vaccination in children (be they healthy, immunocompromised, have cardiovascular complications, etc.)? What is the effect of SARS-CoV-2 vaccination on children who have already had Multisystem inflammatory Syndrome in children (MIS-C) or long COVID symptoms? When will children need boosters, if at all? What is the durability of vaccine-induced immune responses (humoral, cellular, absolute antibody level, neutralizing antibodies, cellular responses, recall responses) in children?
With growing evidence that the immune response generated by COVID-19 vaccines is efficacious against death, hospitalization, symptomatic infection and transmission, the question arises as to the duration of this protection. Monitoring and modelling the rate of decline of immune protection from vaccination (clinical outcomes, humoral immunity and cellular immunity), together with information on the changing nature of SARS-CoV-2, will help inform the timing and type of booster vaccine to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19. In addition, the need and timing of booster doses may be different in the general population and in various specific sub-groups such as long-term care residents, those with other health conditions and children.
This category may be a bit of a catch-all, but an important one nonetheless. With over 100 studies in the field, comparing results is very interesting. However, comparisons are tricky when studies are using different measurements. The CITF therefore is working on generating measures of immunity that can be compared between studies. The correlates of protection (measurable signs that a person is immune, in the sense of being protected against becoming infected and/or developing disease) still need to be better understood, whether it be with respect to cellular immunity or humoral (antibody) levels following infection and vaccination. The duration of protection after one, two or three vaccines is still an open question. This information is required to determine the need for and optimal timing of further vaccination and to prevent or mitigate future waves of SARS-CoV-2 infection in a timely manner.
With vaccination coverage in Canada among the highest in the world, public health restrictions have eased. School is back in person, workplaces are coming alive again, restaurants are open, and borders crossings have increased and rules are evolving. However, close monitoring of the level of SARS-CoV-2 immunity in different settings across Canada and internationally is required to sustain these re-openings and avoid further outbreaks of COVID-19. The CITF requests that all its funded studies share anonymized data with its Secretariat, so it can be integrated into immunity monitoring and mathematical modelling work. This modelling will provide information on immunity to guide decisions about public health measures. Moreover, information gathered from studies on a broad array of factors such as the duration of infection and/or vaccine-induced immunity or the impact of new variants of concern on vaccine effectiveness, can be incorporated into our mathematical models that explore possible pandemic scenarios to help policy makers understand levels of effective population immunity.