UBC researchers awarded funding for new COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Projects

Genome BC, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and the BCCDC Foundation for Public Health have partnered for the first time to fund rapid response research initiatives that will have a direct impact – in a matter of months – on people in British Columbia during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Valued at approximately $1.3 million, a total of nine new projects being led by researchers at the BC Centre for Disease Control, BC Children’s Hospital Institute, Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia (UBC), UBC Okanagan, and University of Victoria have been selected for funding, covering a range of priority research areas, including:
  • vaccine breakthrough infections;
  • vaccine effectiveness in the context of variants of concern and immune response;
  • viral transmission;
  • equitable distribution of vaccines;
  • vaccine acceptance and attitudes towards vaccines; and,
  • vaccine literacy and hesitancy among people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people who are incarcerated, people who work in long-term care homes and a variety of multicultural communities in the Lower Mainland.

The supported projects represent a mix of laboratory-based and social dynamics studies, offering critical insights to urgent issues, while supporting near-term targeted public health responses, and helping to ensure access to and confidence in vaccination programs for everyone in BC.

UBC-Led Project Summaries

UBC Vaccine Effectiveness of Variants in British Columbia

Daniel Ting, Department of Emergency Medicine

The Canadian COVID-19 Emergency Department Rapid Response Network (CCEDRRN) has harmonized data collection for COVID-19 tested patients across 50 emergency departments in 8 provinces, including BC. This new project will leverage CCEDRRN’s existing and growing registry infrastructure to determine the real-world effectiveness of vaccines in BC in reducing severe COVID-19, as documented by emergency admission. Research efforts will specifically focus on vaccine effectiveness against the P.1 Variant of Concern circulating in BC, and on effectiveness of a single dose to assess outcomes of Canada’s dose delay. This study will provide critical real-world data about vaccine performance and support key study sites in the Lower Mainland.

COVID-19 SMILES – the study of vaccine escape mutants

Agatha Jassem, Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, BC Centre for Disease Control

Vaccine escape mutants have the potential to undermine the effectiveness of the global vaccination campaign against SARS-CoV-2. The team will develop a surveillance program to detect and sequence viral variants emerging from vaccine breakthrough infections. These mutants will be tested experimentally to understand their responsiveness to vaccine-induced immunity, and modeling will be incorporated to project the impacts of vaccine escape mutants on transmission and pandemic progression in BC.

VITAL: Vaccine Investigation of Transmission Analysis Longitudinally and Effectiveness

Catherine Hogan, UBC, BC Centre for Disease Control

This project will integrate data sources to investigate (1) the impact of SARS CoV-2 vaccination on viral load and subsequent infection transmission at a population level and (2) the characteristics of individuals who have post-vaccine breakthrough infections with and without Variants of Concern. The outcome of this work will be to understand the vaccination scenarios most likely to effectively halt transmission in BC, and to help plan and prioritize public health interventions.

Advancing COVID-19 vaccines in BC Prisons

Sofia Bartlett, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, BC Centre for Disease Control

A previous COVID-19 study in BC Provincial Correctional Centres in January 2021 identified that COVID19 vaccine acceptance among people who are incarcerated (PWAI) was low, with only 59% (181/308) of PWAI surveyed indicating they would accept a COVID-19 vaccine if offered. To increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence among PWAI, the team will undertake a community-based study including PWAI in the research design process and as peer educators. Quantitative surveys will be developed with PWAI, then deployed to determine current vaccine literacy levels and concerns about COVID-19 vaccines among PWAI. Using this data, educational resources will be co-developed with PWAI, and peer-educator training provided to PWAI.

COVID-19 South Asian Community Response Study

Julie Bettinger, School of Population and Public Health, BC Children’s Hospital Institute 

Statistics Canada estimates South Asians are 50-60% less likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine due to misinformation and fear of adverse events. Our study will identify the information needs, values, beliefs, and experiences related to COVID-19 vaccination among ethnically South Asian communities in the lower mainland of British Columbia and develop culturally appropriate communication interventions to promote COVID-19 vaccination.

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in pregnancy, breastfeeding, and parenthood

Marie Tarrant, UBC Okanagan School of Nursing

Limited data on COVID-19 vaccine developments for pregnant and breastfeeding persons as well as for children may increase vaccine hesitancy in Canada. To counter misinformation and promote vaccine uptake, this project will examine vaccine hesitancies and concerns among people who are (or planning to be) pregnant or breastfeeding and parents with young children in BC. Quantitative and qualitative data will be collected to examine COVID-19 vaccine knowledge, concerns, and vaccine hesitancy to assist in developing knowledge mobilization materials for these groups. A deeper understanding of these communities’ hesitancies will allow us to create tailored resources for these priority populations to promote vaccine acceptance.

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