A McMaster University team is collaborating in a major nationwide study on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in people with immune-mediated inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis.
The researchers are examining the immune response to COVID-19 vaccination in 2,500 immune-mediated inflammatory diseases (IMID) patients recruited from British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland.
Patients will provide blood samples using finger-prick home kits both before and after being vaccinated. Researchers will study patients’ antibody levels for 12 months after their final shot, measuring both post-vaccine reactions and COVID-19 infections.
“It is absolutely vital that we understand the effectiveness and safety of COVID-19 vaccines in people with chronic inflammatory diseases, as a lack of knowledge can increase vaccine hesitancy and even contribute to the spread of misinformation in this vulnerable population group,” said Maggie Larché, professor of medicine at McMaster and head of rheumatology at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.
“Together with my McMaster colleague Dawn Bowdish, and immunologists from University of Toronto and McGill, we are beginning to obtain the immunological answers to these important clinical questions,” she said.
“These answers are even more critical as Canada enters its fourth wave, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant.”
Patient concerns leading to vaccine hesitancy has already been researched by Ines Colmegna, a scientist at the Infectious Diseases and Immunity in Global Health Program at McGill University, who is also involved in the IMID study.
“Vaccine hesitancy is a complex issue and understanding it is particularly relevant among people with autoimmune disease and/or immunosuppression,” said Colmegna.
More than seven million Canadians live with IMIDs and many have tried numerous drug treatments to control their conditions, said project study lead Sasha Bernatsky of McGill.
“These diseases involve chronic inflammation and require immunosuppressive drugs. These drugs can control symptoms and prevent organ damage but can also lessen immune responses to vaccination,” she said.
“Patients, doctors and decision-makers also need to know if the drugs people with IMID are on can affect their response to COVID vaccination. We also need estimates of adverse events, and other problems including triggering a flare of their disease.”
Other researchers involved in the McMaster portion of the study are Stephanie Garner, John Marshall, Steve Collins and Mohannad Abu Hilal.
The study is supported by the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force and the Vaccine Surveillance Reference Group.