COVID-19 Immunity Task Force-supported initiative provides real-time updates of worldwide serosurveillance efforts
As the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic passes its peak, clinicians, public health officials, and policymakers around the world have a growing need to understand antibody patterns and potential immunity. To better inform their decision-making efforts, Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force recently supported the development of SeroTracker, a web platform that synthesizes findings from serological (antibody) testing efforts worldwide.
Serological testing detects antibodies in the blood that signify evidence of having been infected by COVID-19. In contrast to nose and throat swabs, which test for acute infection, antibody tests provide a more complete picture of the population that has been infected. In England, for example, only 0.25% of the population was found to have acute infection, whereas nearly 7% of the population has evidence of infection using antibody tests. As countries begin to accelerate their investments in serological testing, the need for a tool to display the results of serological surveys that may vary widely between urban and rural areas has become increasingly evident. “Part of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force’s mandate is to make a comprehensive effort to keep track of all the studies that are rolling in, not just in Canada but around the world,” says Dr. Timothy Evans, the Executive Director of the Task Force and Scientific Lead for the SeroTracker team.
SeroTracker came to fruition through a collaboration of a team of 20 researchers, data scientists, and economists representing six universities in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Comprised primarily of graduate students, the project is the brainchild of Rahul Arora, a doctoral student at the University of Oxford, and Tingting Yan, a medical student at the University of Toronto. After reading an op-ed published by Dr. Evans and Dr. David Naylor, Co-Chair of the Task Force, Rahul and Tingting began to devise strategies to contribute to the Task Force’s efforts. “We noticed that much of the COVID-19 response was acute and short-term, and we had a circle of friends with the skills to contribute to a more long-term effort,” says Tingting.
After a series of discussions with Dr. Evans and other members of the Task Force, Rahul and Tingting concluded that serological testing would play an influential role in informing policy decisions, and by extension, Canada’s economic recovery. In April, they formed a team and set to work to create a platform to track global test data.
As of June 3, there were more than 160 serological test studies being monitored by SeroTracker worldwide. The SeroTracker team scours peer-reviewed articles, preprints, government reports and media articles to collect this data and display it on a dashboard, where users can filter results by geographic location, study status, source type, test type, and population. As more study results trickle in, SeroTracker updates the tracker daily with real-time data. “There’s nothing like SeroTracker out there, which is a testimony to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the team that developed it,” says Dr. Evans. “It’s a truly global resource that people everywhere can use to see what’s happening in their area and track patterns of immunity over time.”
Rahul, who developed the concept for blending traditional research methodologies with modern technology, describes SeroTracker as an entrepreneurial endeavour. “We’re creating new, sophisticated ways to capture and visualize data from across the globe,” he says. “Translating data into a live dashboard has been challenging and rewarding. We’ve had to adapt quickly in response to our growing knowledge of COVID-19 immunity and to the Task Force’s needs.”
From Dr. Evans’ perspective, SeroTracker is well worth the effort. Current swab-based testing has only identified a small fraction of the total number of COVID-19 cases worldwide, leaving policymakers to base decisions with major social, economic, and public health implications on scarce data. “By having this tool to geo-locate infection hotspots, we can provide a better sense of how the epidemic is evolving locally and globally,” Dr. Evans affirms. Essentially, SeroTracker provides a virtual rendering of population rates of infection by location, age, and occupation that policymakers can use to adjust safety measures accordingly. Displaying antibody levels can also influence the way industry leaders manage their workforce to minimize transmission. “For example, if you’re deploying nurses to long-term care facilities, you may prefer to send people who have evidence of immunity,” explains Dr. Evans. “The information made more easily accessible by SeroTracker may provide new options for protecting workers and patients.”
With the support and guidance of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, the SeroTracker team will continue to update the web platform with current data while developing a country-specific dashboard for Canada. “As the science surrounding COVID-19 immunity continues to evolve, we will continue to capture information that helps advance the global effort to fight the pandemic,” says Rahul.
Click here to access the SeroTracker: www.serotracker.com
For more information about the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force: https://www.covid19immunitytaskforce.ca/
June 16 2020