Zabrina Brumme (left) and Mark Brockman (right) in Blusson Hall in 2015.

$1.2M grant aims to investigate the immune response of LTC residents to COVID-19 vaccines

March 01, 2021

FHS professors Mark Brockman and Zabrina Brumme are co-leading a study with Dr. Marc Romney, the Medical Lead for Microbiology and Virology at Providence Health Care, to examine the strength and durability of immune responses in residents and staff of long-term care facilities following COVID-19 vaccination. Their study partners include UBC and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, an institute known for its innovations in viral molecular medicine where Dr. Brumme serves as the Laboratory Director. 

Residents of long-term care (LTC) facilities are at increased risk for serious outcomes of COVID-19. As vaccines are now being offered to this priority population, the Government of Canada has awarded Brockman, Brumme and Romney $1.2 million through Canada's COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) to study vaccine-induced immune responses in residents and staff of local long-term care residences. The team will also investigate viral, immunological and social factors that contributed to COVID-19 outbreaks in LTC facilities, to better understand why the disease has been fatal to so many residents.

Brockman and Brumme will lead the charge in the study’s laboratory analyses. Research is taking place at St. Paul's Hospital and SFU, including in SFU's level 3 biocontainment lab, where Brockman, Brumme and SFU professors Masahiro Niikura, Ralph Pantophlet and Jonathan Choy will apply cutting-edge methods to assess antibody and cellular immune responses to the vaccines.

“We designed our study to look at COVID-19 specific antibodies generated by both natural infection and vaccination,” Brockman explains. “We recently adapted our assays to test if the antibodies provided by current vaccines can recognize and neutralize new COVID-19 variants, particularly among our older participants.  We also plan to explore factors that may determine differences in the strength and durability of vaccine responses between individuals.”

Brumme was candid in describing the challenges of setting up a vaccine study in the context of a rapid vaccine rollout. “Our original study was designed before the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, and was meant to focus on outbreaks in long-term care, including studies on the duration of natural immunity following SARS-CoV-2 infection,” Brumme says. “But, once the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were approved in Canada, delivery occurred very rapidly to residents in long-term care. Thanks to amazing teamwork between SFU, Providence Health Care and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, we were able to get our study up and running during the December 2020 holiday season. We have had a strong response so far, and we are grateful to the residents, their families and the health care workers who have agreed to participate."

The ultimate goal of their work is to protect those in long-term care, and add to local and national data sets to support public health management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click here to learn more about the CITF BC and AB collaborative study on vaccine-induced immune responses.