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About SickKids

September 15, 2020

Dr. Upton Allen from SickKids leads team assessing COVID-19 prevalence, risk factors among Black Canadian communities

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a drastic impact on the world but not an equal one. Data from countries including the United States and United Kingdom indicate a disproportionate number of individuals of African ancestry are contracting COVID-19 and having worse outcomes than people of other races. As Canada prepares for the possibility of a second wave of infection, understanding the level of immunity and unique risk factors for the Black Canadian population will be key to developing robust, equitable safety measures.

Medical researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), in partnership with Ontario universities and Black community groups, are conducting largescale antibody testing and data collection of Black Canadians in Ontario. The goals of the research team are to understand the prevalence of COVID-19 infection in Black Canadian communities, the level of immunity to COVID-19 within these communities, and the risk factors associated with both contracting the infection and having poor outcomes.

“We are beginning to see evidence that structural inequities may be contributing to an increased risk of COVID-19 infection within the Black Canadian population. This is an indication that we must take great care to protect and promote the health of these communities specifically,” says Dr. Upton Allen, lead investigator of the study, Division Head of Infectious Diseases, and Senior Associate Scientist in the Child Health Evaluative Sciences Program at SickKids. “Our hope is that this study will inform targeted policies as well as health and safety measures that can effectively reduce the disease risk for Black Canadians.”

Dr. Upton Allen, lead investigator of the study, Division Head of Infectious Diseases, and Senior Associate Scientist in the Child Health Evaluative Sciences Program at SickKids, pictured in front of the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning.

Researchers hope antibody testing and sociodemographic data will help paint complete picture

Previous evidence indicates that individuals who have COVID-19 antibodies are more likely to have at least partial immunity to future infections from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The research team will be assessing antibody responses over time to understand the true prevalence of COVID-19 and the extent to which Black Canadian communities may be protected from a second wave in the fall.

In addition to antibody testing, the researchers will collect key health and sociodemographic data to better understand the potential risk factors associated with COVID-19 infection and poor outcomes. They will specifically be looking at socioeconomic factors and pre-existing medical conditions, as both have been implicated in the higher rates of COVID-19 infection and complications seen in other countries.

Black representation in COVID-19 research “vital”

Key to the study’s future success are the partnerships with many Black Canadian researchers at Ontario universities as well as Black community groups. Pamela Appelt, Chair of the study’s Community Advisory Group, adds, “It is significant this is a Black-led project. Generating trust and therefore greater community participation is of the utmost importance.”

The research team started to pilot the recruitment of participants over the summer and are looking to include up to 2,000 Black Canadians and up to 1,000 other individuals within specific postal codes for comparison. The study is scalable in terms of sample size and is open to all age groups and while its initial roll-out has been in the Greater Toronto Area, the research team is looking to expand recruitment across Ontario.

“With any work that is looking to generate data to inform COVID-19 policies, it’s vital to ensure the Black population is represented in sufficient numbers,” says Carl James, co-investigator of the study, Professor, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora, York University. “This study’s findings will hopefully be beneficial to the individuals who participate and the community at large.”

If you were previously diagnosed with COVID-19 and are interested in participating, please contact seromark.project@sickkids.ca for more information.

Collaborators on the study include researchers from the University of Toronto, York University, Ryerson University and Western University as well as representatives of Toronto Public Health, the Jamaican Canadian Association, Black Health Alliance, Black Creek and Taibu Community Health Centres, Alliance for Healthier Communities among others. A special Community Advisory Group, chaired by retired Citizenship Judge Pamela Appelt, works with the research team.

The pilot phase of the research has been supported by the University of Toronto and SickKids.

About The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost paediatric health-care institutions and is Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education. Founded in 1875 and affiliated with the University of Toronto, SickKids is one of Canada’s most research-intensive hospitals and has generated discoveries that have helped children globally. Its mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized family-centred care; pioneer scientific and clinical advancements; share expertise; foster an academic environment that nurtures health-care professionals; and champion an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. SickKids is a founding member of Kids Health Alliance, a network of partners working to create a high quality, consistent and coordinated approach to paediatric health care that is centred around children, youth and their families. SickKids is proud of its vision for Healthier Children. A Better World.

Media contact:
Jessamine Luck
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)
416-813-7654 ext. 201436