Mobilizing vaccine research in a pandemic

Research Excellence | Strategy 9: Knowledge Exchange
Theme: Collaboration
Photo credit: the CDC on Unsplash

When Canada began rolling out COVID-19 vaccines, the Vaccine Evaluation Center (VEC) supported by UBC and the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute mobilized rapidly to monitor the safety and side effects of the vaccines with the launch of the CANVAS-COVID study.

For Kim Marty, senior data manager at the VEC, one of the biggest challenges was ensuring the success of the study in the face of unprecedented enrolment. “That study ballooned really quickly and we ended up enrolling over 1.8 million participants,” she says.

The Vaccine Evaluation Center (VEC) is Canada’s first academic center for independent vaccine research and an international leader in vaccinology research. Marty’s data management team at the VEC helps design study databases and maintain data quality control. They worked more closely than ever with the faculty of medicine’s digital solutions team and BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute’s IT department and data management team to tackle the technical challenges.

“We ended up amalgamating 70 databases to complete phase one of the CANVAS-COVID project,” says Marty, noting the study continues as six-month to four-year-olds are now being vaccinated.

The study has delivered real-world, real-time evidence to show that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, helping inform public policy decisions and vaccination campaigns. A recent paper from the team, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, clearly demonstrated that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are safe to use in pregnancy – providing much needed reassurance to concerned parents-to-be.

“In the early stages of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, there was low vaccine uptake among pregnant people due to concerns about data availability and vaccine safety,” says Dr. Manish Sadarangani, director of the VEC and an associate professor of pediatrics at UBC. “This study adds to the growing body of evidence that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are safe during pregnancy.”

Marty says the intense times are worth it because the VEC is a great place to work and she values its mission to lead high-quality, independent vaccine research to inform safe, effective and trusted immunization programs for all. “I’m super proud of the VEC, the work we do, and our approach of being an objective evaluator,” Marty says. “The research we do is really important, which makes me strive to get it done and contribute to knowledge and decision-making.”

Please visit the Faculty of Medicine website to read the full story.

Through Strategy 9: Knowledge Exchange, UBC is committed to improving the university ecosystem and supporting the translation of research into action.