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New study explores why COVID-19 disproportionately affects the elderly

MONTREAL (CityNews) – Many of Canada’s long-term care facilities were hit hard by COVID-19, especially during the first wave of the pandemic.

Now researchers are studying why exactly the novel coronavirus has been severely and disproportionately affecting the elderly.

One of the goals is to be better prepared to protect the country’s aging population in the future.

“If age in itself is not sufficient to understand this variability, we want to understand, we want to go into the CHSLS (long-term care facility),” said immunologist and microbiologist Dr. Donald Vinh. “We want to go in through the immunological perspective, a cardiovascular perspective and psycho-social perspective to find out, to determine what is it that defines those who were infected and those who weren’t.

“How prevalent is this autoantibody problem? So we want to sample the elderly population in the long-term care facilities and see who is at risk and who isn’t. And that will hopefully guide intervention should there be another wave.”

The study will recruit 850 participants in Montreal to compare the immune system response of those who were infected without symptoms, with severe and moderate symptoms, and those who weren’t.

In Quebec, which was hard hit by the pandemic, 91.2 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths were people aged 70 and above.

The $2.7 million study is supported by Canada’s COVID task force.

“The results of our project are going to be integrated to see how those different systems interact to better predict outcome,” said Vinh.

Researchers say the data from this study will help better manage COVID in the short and long term.

“If the unfortunate situation arises that the variants of concern cause another wave, we want to have information available to rationally manage the next wave,” said Vinh.