A $4-million investment from Canada's COVID-19 Immunity Task Force will launch a national study to investigate the burden of SARS-CoV-2 infection among aging Canadians, a population that has been shown to be at greatest risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19 disease. 

The study will be carried out by the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA), a national platform for research on aging led by McMaster University and involving more than 10 academic and hospital research sites across the country.

The CLSA's COVID-19 Seroprevalence Study will collect and analyze blood samples from more than 19,000 CLSA participants in 10 provinces. In addition to providing blood samples, the CLSA’s study participants will complete a questionnaire that collects information on symptoms, risks factors, health-care use, and the psychosocial and economic impacts of COVID-19.

Linking the results about the presence of antibodies and other immune markers obtained from the blood sample analyses to the CLSA's questionnaire findings will paint a more comprehensive picture of the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 and the impact of COVID-19 among older adults in Canada.

"By building on the CLSA's extensive data collection and infrastructure, the study's two-pronged approach will allow us to estimate the levels of immunity among older Canadians and give us a deeper understanding of some of the factors that affect their experience of the disease," said Parminder Raina, a professor in the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact at McMaster University and the scientific director of the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging.

"In basic terms, the blood sample analysis will show how widespread SARS-CoV-2 infection is among men and women over age 50, while the questionnaire will tell us about the lives of those individuals since the onset of the pandemic. Together, this information will give us a more complete understanding of the transmission dynamics and the risk factors that are associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection in aging adults."

"As we begin a second wave of the pandemic, finding novel ways to further understand immunity in aging Canadians is increasingly important," said David Naylor, co-chair of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.

"The CLSA project will illuminate the many interrelated factors that influence the spread and impact of COVID-19 among older adults, be it their living conditions, access to health care, or underlying conditions, to name just a few.”

The study, which will launch this fall, is led by Raina, the CLSA's lead principal investigator, co-principal investigators Susan Kirkland (Dalhousie University, Halifax) and Christina Wolfson (McGill University, Montreal), and a national team of researchers.

“Protecting individuals at high risk of severe outcomes, including aging Canadians, is a top priority in our ongoing management of COVID-19 in Canada," said Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. "Older individuals are at risk of more severe illness due to their age and other underlying medical conditions. Improving our understanding of immunity among high-risk populations will allow us to plan and target our public health approaches.”

The CLSA is the most comprehensive platform for research on aging in Canada, collecting longitudinal data from more than 50,000 participants at recruitment, for 20 years. Linking the findings from the CLSA COVID-19 antibody study to pre-pandemic and post-pandemic CLSA data and biomarkers will allow for a comprehensive picture of the experiences of older adults in Canada during the coronavirus pandemic.

Funding for the CLSA research platform has been provided by the Government of Canada through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

COVID-19 and aging adults from McMaster University (OFFICIAL) on Vimeo.