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McMaster University scientists are joining forces with First Nations, federal government and academic partners to investigate vaccine effectiveness and hesitancy in three Indigenous communities across Canada.

The COVID CommUNITY-First Nations study will collect, analyze, and report data relating to COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness and safety; as well as examine hesitancy in the Six Nations of the Grand River near Hamilton, Lac La Ronge Indian Band in Saskatchewan and Wendake in Quebec.

The rate of cumulative COVID-19 cases reported in First Nations communities was 4.3 times the corresponding rate in the general Canadian population, as reported by Indigenous Services Canada on Nov. 9. Researchers will conduct the study with support from the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) and the Vaccine Surveillance Reference Group.

“First Nations Peoples face historical, colonial and racist policies that influence their health status today in Canada,” said principal investigator Sonia Anand, senior scientist at McMaster’s Population Health Research Institute, and a professor of medicine at McMaster.

“This is an important study because many First Nations want research data from their own communities and being partners in such research can increase trust in research and COVID-19 vaccines.”

Tammy Cook-Searson, chief of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band in Saskatchewan, said research partnerships drawing in First Nations, government and university partners will help build capacity to combat COVID-19 in Indigenous communities.

It was a point echoed by Lori Davis Hill, director of Six Nations Health Services.

“Collaborating to conduct this investigation of COVID-19 immune responses and vaccine hesitancy within our territory will help establish important and crucial COVID-19 data,” said Davis Hill.

“This will in turn assist us in providing the proper support to community members and will help with the continued fight against COVID-19.”

Manon Picard, clinical nursing advisor at Wendake, said the study will allow investigators to learn more about the relationship between vaccinations, their effectiveness and the protection they can offer a given community.

Picard said study data may also “allow us to make certain hypotheses about the reasons why First Nations Peoples are more susceptible to contracting the disease.”

Tim Evans, CITF’s executive director, said such research is urgently needed.

“We are very excited this project has been launched in collaboration with several First Nations communities, and we hope that by working together, answers can be found, eventually leading to helpful solutions,” said Evans.

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