March 4, 2022

Partnering with newcomer communities leads to thousands of vaccinations in Calgary area

Three UCalgary COVID-19 research and outreach projects receive CIHR funding
Gabriel Fabreau and Annalee Coakley
Gabriel Fabreau, left, and Annalee Coakley.

UCalgary researchers credit their strong relationship with community partners as a key factor that led to a successful COVID-19 vaccination program among newcomers in Calgary. Drs. Gabriel Fabreau, MD, and Annalee Coakley, MD, and their team delivered approximately 12,200 vaccinations across 13 urban and rural clinics in and around Calgary. This includes four large meat processing facilities that reached an 85 per cent worker vaccination rate and outreach clinics in Calgary’s northeast that helped the Upper NE achieve 100 per cent first dose uptake.

“The vaccination clinics were the start of a long-term partnership for us,” says Adanech Sahilie from the Immigrant Outreach Society and Refugee Health YYC research team member who was one of many community partners involved. “Because of the clinics we now have a relationship with the workers at the meat plants, and they know they can reach out to us on many issues. This type of collaboration has huge impact.”

The effort, led by the Centre for Newcomers Calgary, co-ordinated many social agencies that were key in the success of the project including the Alberta International Medical Graduates Association, Action Dignity and the Calgary Immigrant Women's Association. Health-care partnerships included Calgary Zone Primary Care Networks, the refugee clinic through Mosaic Primary Care Network, Highland and Rural Primary Care Networks, the Alberta Health Services design lab and Alberta Health.

“What we learned from mitigating the outbreaks at the meat packing plants was that addressing social barriers was critical to providing clinical care,” says Coakley, physician lead at the Mosaic Refugee Health Clinic, principal investigator on the project and clinical assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine.

By removing barriers to vaccine access, such as hosting a vaccine clinic at a convenient location, without needing to book an appointment, and staffed by people from diverse backgrounds who could answer questions in first language, we were able to achieve high uptake of vaccine in vulnerable communities.

Coakley is part of Fabreau’s research team, which also includes Drs. Kevin Pottie and Denise Spitzer, is one of three UCalgary COVID-19 research projects that received CIHR Operating Grant: Emerging COVID-19 Research Gaps and Priorities funding for a collective total of $1.4 million.

“We are committed to getting all Canadians through the COVID-19 pandemic safely. These new research projects will provide evidence to guide our efforts in addressing the needs of communities who continue to experience disproportionate impacts from the pandemic while ensuring that our health care works for everyone,” says Jean-Yves Duclos, minister of health.

Research projects' potential for rapid impact

“These COVID-19 research projects have the potential for rapid impact on the well-being of Canadians from vulnerable populations and equity-deserving groups,” says Dr. William Ghali, MD, Vice-President (Research). “CIHR’s continued support for research on this topic will enable us to improve how we prevent, treat, and manage COVID-19, as well as other public health risks in the future.”

There are several socio-economic barriers that keep racialized communities and newcomers from vaccination clinics. The most successful strategy was to improve access through pop-up clinics in the communities and workplaces where newcomers live and work. Secondly, to engage directly with communities, address their concerns and provide resources to combat vaccine misinformation in their communities.

As the next step in their work, researchers will participate in knowledge engagement strategies to help other vulnerable communities across Alberta to improve vaccination rates.

Projects  funded through CIHR Operating Grant

Gabriel Fabreau, Kevin Pottie, Annalee Coakley and Denise Spitzer,
University of Calgary, Cumming School of Medicine, O’Brien Institute for Public Health.  
Investigating COVID-19 Vaccine Outreach Strategies for Marginalized Newcomer Communities

Gerald Giesbrecht
University of Calgary, Cumming School of Medicine, Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, Owerko Centre.
Short-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on infant socioemotional and neurodevelopment

  • Building upon a cohort of 10,000 pregnant Canadians recruited during the pandemic, the team’s objective is to determine whether prenatal maternal stress and SARS-CoV-2 infection associate with neuro- and/or socioemotional developmental delay in infants at one year. The study involves individuals who were pregnant during the pandemic and who enrolled in the Pregnancy During the COVID-19 Pandemic Study. The team is working with individuals to obtain measures of the potential impacts of the pandemic on child development.

Amir Sanati Nezhad, Reed Ferber, Linda Duffett-Leger
University of Calgary, Schulich School of Engineering
REMOTE Study: Longitudinal Monitoring of the Incidence of SARS-CoV-2 Infection and Immunity Levels in Long-Term Care Facilities

  • University of Calgary researchers will collaborate with the York University researchers, Brenda Strafford Foundation (BSF), W21C Research and Innovation Centre, Alberta Precision Laboratories, and VitalTracer wearable company to implement and evaluate a new self-testing approach of monitoring both infection and immunity levels through a unique vital signs (measured by smartwatches) and immunity level monitoring system (point-of-care biosensors) integrated with a machine-learning harnessed web-app (REMOTE). The project will benefit to protecting at-risk LTC residents in Alberta while helping them remain socially and emotionally connected. It will represent an opportunity to provide evidence-informed recommendations for the development of standards for staffing and infection monitoring, prevention, and control in LTC homes. The outcomes of this research in the short term will provide enhanced uptake of accurate rapid tests and digital technologies by LTC staff and residents, and in the longer term, will build the basic infrastructure for a shift in home-based medicine and remote monitoring of diseases.