Manitoba

H1N1 study debunks aboriginal immunity claim

A national study of the effectiveness of the H1N1 vaccine on Canadian aboriginals suggests the claim that native peoples more easily contract the virus because of inferior immunity is false.
A national study of the effectiveness of the H1N1 vaccine on Canadian aboriginals suggests the claim that native peoples more easily contract the virus because of inferior immunity is false.

A disproportionate number of aboriginals were diagnosed with H1N1 compared to the rest of the Canadian population during the first wave of so-called swine flu that hit in the spring of 2009.

The Assembly of First Nations said in July 2009 that Manitoba statistics pegged the infection level among provincial First Nations at more than 20 times the rate among the overall population, 135 per 100,000 people versus 6.1 cases per 100,000. 

'We can get off this bandwagon of inferior immunity and look for other causes.'—Dr. Ethan Rubinstein

One of the theories that surfaced among medical professionals was that aboriginals were more susceptible to H1N1 was because they had a low immunity to it.

Because of this, aboriginal people were put on a priority list to get the H1N1 vaccine for the second wave of the virus in fall 2009.

But a national research team, led by scientists from the University of Manitoba, now say that's not true. Their findings are contained in a study to be released in December. 

CBC News was granted an exclusive look at an abstract of the study's results Thursday in advance of its official publication.

The team took blood samples from 138 Canadian aboriginals between age 20 and 59 before and after giving them a dose of the H1N1 vaccine and then compared how their immune systems responded.

Of those who participated, 95 were of First Nations descent, 42 were Métis and one was of Inuit heritage. Sixty-six per cent were women.

The study showed the subjects' immune response was actually better than non-native Canadians, University of Manitoba researcher Dr. Ethan Rubinstein said.

"We can get off this bandwagon of inferior immunity and look for other causes," Rubinstein said.

Other theories about why so many aboriginals contracted H1N1 centred around lack of adequate housing and infrastructure and access to medical care.

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