McGill study investigating COVID-19 in Montreal's Orthodox Jewish community

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a unique effect on Orthodox Jewish communities, and a new study aims to find out more and hopes the results will prove useful to direct policy in many of Canada's marginalized communities.

The Canadian government's COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) is supporting a McGill University study looking into COVID-19 among Orthodox Jewish communities, which were hard hit during the pandemic.

The Refuah V’Chesed medical clinic in Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood reached out to McGill's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences to do the study that will combine several disciplines to determine COVID-19 immunity in the community through infection, vaccination or both.

"Refuah V’Chesed has played a crucial role in managing COVID-19 among our Orthodox Jewish communities, which were greatly affected by the pandemic and are still at risk of more infections,” said Refuah V'Chesed medical liaison Aron Friedlander.

Lead researcher Dr. Peter Nugus said it was a rare and exciting opportunity to investigate the pandemic in the Orthodox Jewish community for several reasons.

"Anti-Semitism is on the rise and this is a community that hasn't received a lot of research attention from a social scientific point of view," said Nugus. "It's also rare from a policy point of view to have studies that are done from a sociological point of view. We think that's very important especially in something like COVID-19 in this pandemic, which is kind of uncharted territory for all of us government's included."

The research team is made up of a sociologist (Nugus), as well as an anthropologist, epidemiologist, biostatistician and two immunologists.

The team will look at the relationship between how COVID-19 manifests itself in a population and how members of the community understand health and illness and behave in response.

"What's unique about this community is the importance of togetherness and particular rituals around particular times of the year," said Nugus. "There is a lot of room to understand what it is that makes this particular community tick, and also, there are a lot of lessons that broader society can learn from this community."

The team is currently collecting blood samples from 1,250 participants before and after they receive a vaccine jab to study their immune responses, including the response to COVID-19 variants.

The study will also see how the Jewish Orthodox community can inform governmental police for other marginalized communities.

"The principle it would illuminate is the principle of what is the need for governments to actually see what is appropriate for the whole society, or what is appropriate for particular communities, whether it is the Orthodox Jewish community or whether it's the Black community or a community from another marginalized group," said Nugus. 

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