A new research study aims to uncover why Montreal North has been one of Canada’s most severely affected neighbourhoods during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study results will shed light on the reasons why some neighbourhoods appear to be at greater risk for the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The Government of Canada, through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF), is providing $767,000 to support this research project.
According to Santé Montréal, the Montreal North borough, with a population of approximately 85,000, has had the highest per capita rate of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, almost double than the entire city’s rate. Montreal North is one of the most densely populated and racially diverse boroughs in the city. In addition, many of its residents work in essential healthcare services, which are among the highest-risk professions for SARS-CoV-2 infection.
“We aim to estimate the true number of people who have had a SARS-CoV-2 infection in Montreal North using antibody tests and study the risk factors specific to this hard-hit population,” explains study lead Dr. Simona Bignami, Associate Professor in the Department of Demography at Université de Montréal. “We will also study vaccine uptake in the community to better understand and improve vaccination efforts in the neighbourhood.” The area currently has a lower-than-average rate of vaccination compared to other Montreal boroughs and the province of Quebec as a whole.
The RISC research project (Risk and Immunity: Situation of COVID-19 in Montreal North) brings together lead investigators Dr. Jack Jedwab from the Association for Canadian Studies and Dr. Simona Bignami from the Université de Montréal, in partnership with the health network (CIUSSS du Nord-de-l'Île-de-Montréal) and community partners in Montreal North.
“By comparing the data we will collect from Montreal North residents with those from other Montreal neighbourhoods, we aim to understand how community-level characteristics, in combination with individual characteristics and behaviours, may have increased the risk for COVID-19 infection and made Montreal North one of the areas with the highest COVID rates in Canada,” says Dr. Bignami.
“Although we know that social inequalities are at the origin of the high number of SARS-CoV-2 infections among the populations living in some neighborhoods, this project is essential to understand and demonstrate COVID-19’s devastating consequences,” says Marjorie Villefranche, Executive Director of Maison d’Haïti.
The study aims to enrol 8,000 people: 4,000 people in Montreal North and 4,000 in other areas of the city. Over the course of a year, the researchers will conduct household-based surveys in which individuals 18 years of age and older will be invited to complete two rounds of online questionnaires. Participants will be able to provide a blood sample if they want to do so, via fingerprick, to determine whether they have COVID-19 antibodies indicating past infection or vaccination. By examining antibodies against different parts of the virus, the researchers will be able to estimate the extent to which residents of Montreal North have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 – even if they had no symptoms or mild symptoms. Researchers will be able to compare these results to those of people who have immunity acquired through vaccination. The project has been approved by the Ethics Review Board of the Université de Montréal.
“The RISC research project will provide a better understanding of risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 infection,” says Grégoire Autin, a researcher at Paroles d’Exclues. “This is important research for Montreal North, which has been particularly affected by the pandemic. The results will help better orient the actions of public and community services in order to support the community in its fight against the pandemic.”
“We hope this study will provide important information to help decision makers and community leaders establish successful prevention strategies in higher-risk neighbourhoods and support future efforts to mitigate the disease,” says Dr. Catherine Hankins, CITF co-chair. “It is important that all communities across Canada have the opportunity to be safe. Therefore community-oriented research like this is needed for priority populations with specific challenges.”
Residents of Montreal North and other areas of the city who are interested in participating in the research study can register online.
Source: COVID-19 Immunity Task Force