How well do COVID-19 vaccines work in people with cancer, immune deficiencies and other populations with health vulnerabilities?

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COVID-19 Research

OTTAWA – The Government of Canada, through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) and Vaccine Surveillance Reference Group (VSRG), is investing more than $8 million on four studies led by researchers at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa.

The studies aim to answer important questions about COVID-19 vaccines, including how well they work in people with cancer and with inherited and medication-related immune deficiencies. One of the studies will also be looking at post-COVID-19 conditions.

Vaccine efficacy in cancer patients

More than 2 million Canadians are currently living with cancer and many have weakened immune systems, either due to the cancer itself, or due to treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy. This makes patients more susceptible to viruses like SARS-CoV-2. It is important for these patients to have protection through vaccination, but a weak immune system can mean a weaker response to vaccines. However, very little research has been done on COVID-19 vaccines in people with cancer.

Two studies will investigate vaccine efficacy in cancer patients. Prospective Cohort Study to Examine Immunogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 Vaccination in Cancer Patients with Solid Malignancies, led by Dr. Glenwood Goss, will determine if people with many kinds of cancer (e.g. lung, breast, prostate, colon and other solid tumours) can mount an appropriate immune response to COVID-19 vaccines.

The second study, A prospective multi-site observational study of SARS-CoV-2 vaccination immunogenicity in patients with hematologic malignancies, led by Dr. Arianne Buchan, aims to determine how well COVID-19 vaccines work in people with blood cancer, specifically.

COVID-19 vaccine efficacy in people with inherited and medication-related immune deficiencies

People with inherited immune deficiencies have a greater risk of developing severe COVID-19 and may be less likely to respond to vaccines. People with multiple sclerosis, arthritis and other immune-mediated diseases may also be at risk because medications for these conditions often suppress the immune system. A study called COVID-19 Vaccine Immunogenicity and Safety in ImmunoDeficient patients, led by Dr. Juthaporn Cowan will provide crucial data to help protect people with immune deficiencies against COVID-19 and discover which component of the immune system is essential in the COVID-19 vaccine response, so that tailored vaccines can be developed in future.

Duration of immunity

The new funding from the CITF will allow an existing study, Stop the Spread Ottawa, led by Dr. Marc-André Langlois, to expand. The new portion of the research, called Fine analysis of longitudinal immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 in vaccination: Harnessing the power of ‘Stop The Spread Ottawa’ to understand immune protection in COVID-19, led by Dr. Angela Crawley, will evaluate how immune cells, called T cells, respond to COVID-19 as well as antibodies, and follow participants into 2022.

“All four of these studies are highly important as we do not yet have enough scientific evidence about the immune response in people with health vulnerabilities such as cancer or weakened immune systems,” says Dr. Caroline Quach Thanh, VSRG Co-Chair. “Another area of study we’re increasingly looking into is the repercussions of COVID-19 on people who have long-lasting symptoms. Dr. Crawley and Dr. Langlois’ research will help illuminate the science around them.”