PEI

'Vast majority' of Canadians still susceptible to COVID-19, early antibody testing suggests

The number of people with antibodies for the novel coronavirus is low, early research by the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force suggests.

None of the 450 Islanders tested showed antibodies in their blood

More than 37,000 blood donors were tested for coronavirus antibodies, according the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force. (CBC file photo)

The number of people with antibodies for the novel coronavirus is low, early research by the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force suggests.

Between May 9 and June 18, more than 37,000 Canadians — including 450 Islanders — who donated blood though Canadian Blood Services were tested for the antibodies. The results show only 0.7 per cent, excluding Quebec, had measurable amounts of antibodies.

"What that says is the vast majority of us are susceptible to this virus if we're exposed," said Catherine Hankins, a professor at McGill University and co-chair of the task force, speaking to Island Morning host Laura Chapin.

The percentage was lower in Atlantic Canada — none of the blood donors tested on P.E.I. showed antibodies — and in the west, she said.

P.E.I. representative

The COVID-19 Immunity Task Force was set up in April by prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The group is comprised of about 30 health leaders from across the country, including P.E.I.'s acting provincial epidemiologist Dr. Marguerite Cameron.

Its purpose is to gather information on COVID-19 and the levels of immunity Canadians have against it.

For example, from a policy standpoint, a high percentage of Canadians with antibodies might give health leaders more latitude to start easing some physical distancing measures, according to the website.

There's no point in relaxing at all on our physical distance, our hand washing, our mask wearing — especially now.— Catherine Hankins

Based on the study, the low number of people who have built up antibodies suggests Canadians have been "crushing the curve," Hankins said.

And though it is an early snapshot with a relatively low sample size especially on P.E.I., it's also a call to action, she added.

"We need to be vigilant. There's no point in relaxing at all on our physical distance, our hand washing, our mask wearing — especially now as worksites are starting to open and schools are opening."

She noted that countries such as Spain and Italy, who were hit hard during the early stages of the pandemic, have begun a second wave and have not achieved any significant level of herd immunity.

Blood donors tested

Hankins also pointed out that the people tested, blood donors, are generally a healthier demographic, and they wouldn't be able to give blood if they had shown COVID-19 symptoms in the previous 14 days.

"They're sort of 18 to 60 or a little bit more so they don't represent the elderly and they don't represent children."

She said the task force plans to do other studies that look at households and pregnant women.

Sheila O'Brien, associate director of epidemiology and surveillance for Canadian Blood Services, is hoping to continue the testing with blood donors.

"Continuing to monitor the antibody rates is a very good way of seeing what's going on out there even among people who don't have symptoms."

P.E.I. has confirmed a total of 55 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with no deaths or hospitalizations. Of those, eight are active and 47 are considered recovered.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning

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