Vaccination in a Pandemic: Dr. Shannon MacDonald awarded $335,000 in CIHR Rapid Research Funds to address vaccinations under COVID-19

University of Alberta Faculty of Nursing Assistant Professor Dr. Shannon MacDonald and her team receive COVID-19 CIHR Rapid Research Funds to address the health challenges surrounding routine vaccinations and future COVID-19 vaccine acceptance in Canada.

26 June 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in extraordinary uncertainty, and Canadians are grappling with the many concerns surrounding its direct and indirect effects. As a result, Canadians are asking questions, especially when it comes to vaccinations: should my children or myself receive our regular vaccines during the pandemic? Is it safe to go to my vaccination appointment? Could COVID-19 make me seriously ill? Will new COVID-19 vaccines be safe, since they are being made so quickly? Will there be enough COVID-19 vaccines for everyone? 

Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta Faculty of Nursing Dr. Shannon MacDonald will seek answers to these questions as part of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) COVID-19 May 2020 Rapid Research Funding opportunity. Her research will not only provide Canada's public health system with essential information to organize the distribution of routine vaccines during the pandemic but will prepare for the inevitable COVID-19 mass vaccination program that is on the horizon.

Today, the results were announced -- an investment of more than $109M over one year in COVID-19 research -- and 139 research teams from across the country will be supported by the provincial and federal investment that will focus on “accelerating the development, testing, and implementation of measures to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19 and its negative consequences on people, communities, and health systems.”

“Accelerating high-quality research and real-time evidence is a priority for Canada in its fight against COVID-19. I congratulate the successful teams for their essential work aimed at better preventing, detecting and treating COVID-19 at the individual and population levels. Our government believes that it’s through collaboration and data sharing that we will respond efficiently to this global health emergency,” said the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Canada’s Minister of Health. 

MacDonald explains more in-depth about her upcoming vaccine research and the desired outcomes as a result of the project.

How did you become involved in research surrounding vaccinations? 

My interest in vaccine research was ignited by my clinical experiences caring for children in the Pediatric ICU, combined with my global health experiences in Indonesia and Ghana. I wanted to better understand what was preventing children from receiving life-saving vaccines. My research into vaccine access and uptake began with my PhD studies in 2005.

How did you become involved with CIHR COVID-19 May 2020 Rapid Research Funding? 

As the COVID-19 pandemic began unfolding, I heard from my colleagues in public health about challenges in providing and accessing vaccination services. As I read more about this, I saw that this was a concern shared globally, as health services were being redirected to COVID-19 prevention and treatment, and the public was being directed to avoid unnecessary excursions outside the home. So, when the CIHR grant competition was announced, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to examine this unintended consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and also to understand what a future COVID-19 vaccination program might entail.

Can you explain more in-depth what your research entails for this project? 

Our project has two objectives. The first is focused on routinely provided vaccines, like childhood vaccines and those for pregnant women and older adults. We will be assessing how routine vaccines are being provided in each province/territory of Canada, what the Canadian public’s perceptions and intentions are regarding routine vaccination during the pandemic, and the actual impact of the pandemic on vaccine coverage levels in three provinces (AB, BC, and QC). The second part of the project is focused on future COVID-19 vaccines. We will be conducting a national survey to ask the public and healthcare providers about what they think about COVID-19 vaccines and whether they intend to get vaccinated when a vaccine(s) become available.

What impact do you hope your research has on Canada’s public health system? 

We anticipate that our research will help determine whether additional strategies are needed to deliver routine vaccines, in order to prevent future outbreaks of diseases like measles and whooping cough. The project will also help determine how receptive Canadians will be to future COVID-19 vaccines and what strategies should be used to promote uptake. Our project is being conducted in partnership with the national committee responsible for developing vaccine recommendations, as well as provincial policy-makers. This is allowing us to focus our data collection on the information that is most useful for making vaccine policy decisions, and a wonderful opportunity to conduct research that will be immediately applied to help protect and promote the health of the Canadian public.

As you know, WHO has designated 2020 to the Year of the Nurse and Midwife. What does this mean to you?

I am immensely proud of being a nurse and see a bright future for nursing in Canada and worldwide. My career in nursing has opened many exciting paths to me and given me a perspective that allows me to contribute to health promotion in so many ways. I am proud to know so many accomplished nurses who use their nursing education and experience to provide compassionate care, to advance knowledge, and to lead within our health care systems. We have a reason to celebrate.

Is there anything else you’d like to touch on? 

Our success in receiving this grant is due to the efforts of a large multidisciplinary team of researchers, clinicians, and policy-makers from across Canada. I am thrilled to be able to include multiple research trainees from the University of Alberta in this project. It’s an opportunity to expose them to an inspiring group of leading vaccine researchers in Canada and to grow the reputation of the U of A as a leader in vaccine policy research.