null The COVID-19 Immunity Task Force funds comprehensive new SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence study focused on aging Canadians

RI-MUHC researcher Christina Wolfson co-leads study investing in our most vulnerable

MONTREAL, October 1, 2020 – Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) announces its support for a new SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence study focused on aging Canadians, a population that has been shown to be at greatest risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19 disease. This $4 million investment will be carried out by the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA), a national platform for research on aging in Canada, led by McMaster University.

The CLSA’s COVID-19 Seroprevalence Study will collect and analyze blood samples from more than 19,000 CLSA participants in 10 provinces. In addition to providing blood samples, the CLSA’s study participants will complete a questionnaire that collects information on symptoms, risks factors, health-care use, and the psychosocial and economic impacts of COVID-19. Linking the results about the presence of antibodies and other immune markers obtained from the blood sample analyses to the CLSA’s questionnaire findings will paint a more comprehensive picture of the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 and the impact of COVID-19 among older adults in Canada.

Christina Wolfson, PhD, is a senior scientist in the Brain Repair and Integrative Neuroscience (BRaIN) Program and conducts research at the Centre for Outcomes Research and Evaluation at the Research Institute of the MUHC
Christina Wolfson, PhD, is a senior scientist in the Brain Repair and Integrative Neuroscience (BRaIN) Program and conducts research at the Centre for Outcomes Research and Evaluation at the Research Institute of the MUHC

“It is thought that the calling card of a previous infection with SARS-CoV-2 is circulating antibodies that could persist for months,” explains Christina Wolfson, PhD, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health at McGill University, senior scientist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and Co-Principal Investigator of the CLSA. “Our best means of ascertaining how close we are to containing the pandemic is to track the presence of antibodies in the population. The devastating effects of COVID-19 at all ages with higher levels of mortality at older ages make it imperative that we give particular attention to the evolution of the antibody profiles of older adults which will, very likely, be different from those of the younger population. The CLSA and the CLSA participants are in a unique position to contribute to a better understanding of the distribution of these antibodies in the older adult population in Canada.”

Dr. Parminder Raina, the study’s Lead Principal Investigator and a Professor in the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact at McMaster University, adds that, “By building on the CLSA’s extensive data collection and infrastructure, the study’s two-pronged approach will allow us to estimate the levels of immunity among older Canadians and give us a deeper understanding of some of the factors that affect their experience of the disease.”

“In basic terms, the blood sample analysis will show how widespread SARS-CoV-2 infection is among men and women over age 50, while the questionnaire will tell us about the lives of those individuals since the onset of the pandemic,” adds Dr. Raina. “Together, this information will give us a more complete understanding of the transmission dynamics and the risk factors that are associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection in aging adults.”

“As we begin a second wave of the pandemic,” says Professor David Naylor, CITF Co-Chair, “finding novel ways to further understand immunity in aging Canadians is increasingly important. The CLSA project will illuminate the many interrelated factors that influence the spread and impact of COVID-19 among older adults, be it their living conditions, access to health care, or underlying conditions, to name just a few.”

The study, which will launch this fall, is headed up by Lead Principal Investigator, Dr. Parminder Raina, of McMaster University (Hamilton) and Co-principal Investigators, Drs. Susan Kirkland (Dalhousie University, Halifax) and Christina Wolfson (McGill University, Montreal), and a national team of researchers.

“Protecting individuals at high risk of severe outcomes, including aging Canadians, is a top priority in our ongoing management of COVID-19 in Canada,” says Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. “Older individuals are at risk of more severe illness due to their age and other underlying medical conditions. Improving our understanding of immunity among high risk populations will allow us to plan and target our public health approaches.”


The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) is one of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s (CIHR) Major Strategic Initiatives and its development was championed by the Institute of Aging. The fundamental goal of this initiative is to mobilize experts in the community to generate the scientific content for a longitudinal research platform that will enable interdisciplinary, population-based research, and evidence-based decision-making that will lead to better health and quality of life for Canadians. The CLSA’s COVID-19 study team is an interdisciplinary group of researchers with expertise in geriatrics, infectious disease epidemiology, clinical chemistry, medical, microbiology, immunology, statistics, genetics, and the social sciences.


The Government of Canada launched the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) in late April 2020 to track the spread of the virus in both the general population and priority populations in Canada. The Task Force also aims to shed light on immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 in a diversity of communities, age brackets, populations, and occupational groups across the nation. To generate this information, the Task Force is drawing on experts from universities and hospitals across Canada, working closely with provincial and territorial public health officials, and engaging communities/stakeholders from inception through to dissemination of findings. For more information visit:


COVID-19 Immunity Task Force
Caroline Phaneuf/Rebecca Burns

Caroline cell: +1-514-778-5092

Oct. 1, 2020