New funding will help predict SARS-CoV-2 variants and protect vulnerable populations

Oct 4, 2021

Dr. Alyson Kelvin (PhD), a scientist at the University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), was awarded close to half a million dollars to assess COVID-19 vaccine efficacy including against virus variants in vulnerable populations. Vulnerable populations including immunosuppressed individuals and those of older ages typically have less effective vaccine responses.

This project is funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research Emerging COVID-19 Research Gaps and Priorities Fund.

Kelvin will investigate the effectiveness of vaccination or previous infection in older frail individuals as well as HIV+ people, to prevent infection with the SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern.

“As global COVID-19 vaccination ramps-up it is important to evaluate vaccine responses across communities—especially in vulnerable populations and to new variants,” said Kelvin. “At the end of this study, we hope to be able to determine what the next viral variants will be before they emerge. This could allow us to have our vaccines one step ahead of the virus.”

Samples from study participants in Canada, Italy, and Rwanda will be analyzed to determine if antibodies generated by vaccination or infection can neutralize the viruses, and to identify viruses that are able to ‘escape’ this neutralization. The group will use next-generation sequencing and computational biology to analyze these ‘escape’ viruses and identify regions of change that may affect antibody binding. This information could be used to screen for new variants arising in the community.

The results will be validated using VIDO’s COVID-19 animal models in its containment Level 3 facility.

“Globally, SARS-CoV-2 variants continue to emerge, highlighting the need to evaluate the effectiveness of available vaccines,” said VIDO associate director Dr. Andrew Van Kessel (PhD). “This research will help to establish methods to assess the level of protection and inform vaccine development moving forward, especially impactful for vulnerable populations.”