Blood donors are helping us prepare for future pandemics
TUESDAY, JUNE 20 2023 (OTTAWA) — Canadian Blood Services has been entrusted by the Public Health Agency of Canada through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) to continue researching the prevalence of antibodies to COVID-19 in blood donors. This work will continue through 2023-2024 with an extension of $6 million in funding. The continuation of this ongoing study will allow for even more de-identified data to be collected and analyzed over the coming months, leading to a greater understanding of how COVID-19 has impacted Canadian.
Analyzing the blood donor base has shown to be a key factor in understanding the movement of a virus through the population during a pandemic. For the past three years, our seroprevalence study has been regularly testing small samples of donated blood already destined for other standard tests to determine whether they have developed an immune system response to COVID-19 through infection or vaccination. Canadian Blood Services is uniquely positioned to perform this work with its dedicated donor base, logistical capacity, and medical expertise, performing the highest number of tests in Canada with proven accurate and consistent results.
The study began in June 2020 when Canadian Blood Services, as an integral part of the health system, reached out to offer our expertise by forming a research partnership with the CITF. Since then, more than 720,000 samples have been tested. Results indicate that more than 78 per cent of blood donors have antibodies due to COVID-19 and 100 per cent have antibodies as the result of vaccination. This demonstrates both the high uptake of vaccination as well as the extent to which COVID-19 has spread throughout the population of adult blood donors.
“The seroprevalence data from Canadian Blood Services has been an indispensable part of our assessment of how far and fast the virus has spread within the country and whether Canadians have antibodies due to vaccination,” says Dr. Tim Evans, Executive Director of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF). “Blood donor data related to SARS-CoV-2 infection and immunity has been an indispensable resource in Canada’s pandemic response and is invaluable in preparing for future threats.”
With the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases during the Omicron wave in late 2021, regular testing for the virus quickly became impossible due to the sheer number of cases. However, donors continued to give blood — providing one of the only clear windows into the spread of COVID-19 at that time. This research also provided evidence that racialized individuals and people from materially deprived neighbourhoods were more likely to have been impacted by COVID-19.
“This study is aligned to our vision at Canadian Blood Services — helping every patient, matching every need and serving every Canadian,” Dr. Graham Sher, CEO at Canadian Blood Services, says. “Gathering this data is critical in helping to understand COVID-19 transmission and evolving immunity across the country and will help ensure future health policy is as equitable and precise as possible. We are proud to leverage our capabilities and play this instrumental role for the Public Health Agency of Canada and the country.”
About Canadian Blood Services
Canadian Blood Services is a not-for-profit charitable organization. Regulated by Health Canada as a biologics manufacturer and primarily funded by the provincial and territorial ministries of health, Canadian Blood Services operates with a national scope, infrastructure and governance that make it unique within Canadian healthcare. In the domain of blood, plasma and stem cells, we provide services for patients on behalf of all provincial and territorial governments except Quebec. The national transplant registry for interprovincial organ sharing and related programs reaches into all provinces and territories, as a biological lifeline for Canadians.
About the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force
The Government of Canada established the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) in late April 2020 to catalyze, support, fund, and harmonize research on SARS-CoV-2 immunity for federal, provincial, and territorial decision makers in their efforts to protect Canadians and minimize the impact of COVID-19. The Task Force’s Secretariat works closely with a range of partners, including governments, public health agencies, institutions, health organizations, research teams, other task forces, engaging communities and stakeholders. To date, the CITF has supported about 120 studies across Canada that have been generating critical insights on the levels, trends, nature, and duration of immunity arising from SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 vaccination.