(L to R): Peter Nugus, Sociology; Fernanda Claudio, Anthropology; Tracie Barnett, Epidemiology; Ciriaco Piccirillo, Immunology; Jörg Fritz, Immunology; Tibor Schuster, Biostatistics; Aron Friedlander, Senior Medical Liaison, Refuah V’Chesed; Peter Steinmetz, Medical Director, Clinic, Refuah v Chesed

The Government of Canada, through the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF), is supporting a study that will investigate COVID-19 among the Orthodox Jewish community in the Montreal-area, which has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

The high incidence of COVID-19 in Montreal’s Orthodox Jewish community prompted the Refuah V’Chesed medical clinic in the Mile End neighbourhood of the city to reach out to researchers at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences for a collaborative study. The Refuah V’Chesed medical clinic serves the Orthodox Jewish community throughout Quebec.

“Our first aim is to determine how prevalent immunity to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), is in the Orthodox Jewish community, whether through infection or vaccination or both, acknowledging members’ shared genetics and health issues, beliefs and behaviours,” explains study Principal Investigator Dr. Peter Nugus, Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and the Institute of Health Sciences Education at McGill. “This is a rare occasion to enact a mixed-methods and interdisciplinary approach to understand the relationship between how disease manifests in a population and how community members understand health and illness and behave in response.”

The team is taking blood samples from 1,250 participants before and after vaccination to study immune responses. This also includes examining the response to SARS-CoV-2 variants. The team will survey all participants, perform in-depth interviews with individual participants, and conduct participant-observation within the Orthodox Jewish community to best understand members’ everyday lives and challenges.

“Beyond understanding the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in this community, this study will achieve a second aim: to see how this community can better inform policy for other marginalized communities in Canada,” adds Dr. Nugus. “Compliance with public health directives is greater when policies resonate with people and how they live their everyday lives. Better understanding of local beliefs and practices can aid in the adoption of policies within such close-knit groups.”

“Refuah V’Chesed has played a crucial role in managing COVID-19 among our Orthodox Jewish communities, which were greatly affected by the pandemic and are still at risk of more infections,” states Mr. Aron Friedlander, Senior Medical Liaison for Refuah V’Chesed: The Montreal Centre for Health and Care. “We are happy to partner with researchers at McGill for this study that will help us to better understand immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in our communities and plan to protect families during future COVID-19 outbreaks.”

“This study will use a truly novel mixed-methods approach with this at-risk, community that we’d like to better understand, while providing guidance for future policy making,” says Dr. Tim Evans, CITF Executive Director. “Beyond understanding the extent of infection in the community and vaccine uptake, many other factors will be explored, particularly the relationship between beliefs and behaviours related to health and illness. The study will also shed light on the emergence of variants, including the nature and effectiveness of immune responses following vaccination to control SARS-CoV-2 infection or re-infection.”

About the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force

The Government of Canada established the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force in late April 2020. The Task Force is overseen by a Leadership Group of volunteers that includes leading Canadian scientists and experts from universities and healthcare

facilities across Canada who are focused on understanding the nature of immunity arising from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. To that end, the CITF is supporting numerous studies to determine the extent of SARS-CoV-2 infection in Canada (in the general population as well as in specific communities and priority populations), understand the nature of immunity following infection, develop improved antibody testing methods, and help monitor the effectiveness and safety of vaccines as they are rolled out across Canada. The Task Force and its Secretariat work closely with a range of partners, including governments, public health agencies, institutions, health organizations, research teams, other task forces, and engages communities and stakeholders. The Task Force’s overall objective is to generate data and ideas that inform interventions aimed at slowing—and ultimately stopping—the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Canada. For more information

visit: www.covid19immunitytaskforce.ca

Media contacts:
COVID-19 Immunity Task Force: media@covid19immunitytaskforce.ca Rebecca Burns
Cell: +1.438.871.8763
Caroline Phaneuf
Cell: +1.514.444.4532