As of November 2021, five SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOC), Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron, were identified by the World Health Organization. While deemed to be highly transmissible, the public health implications of the VOC are unknown. This is despite increasing numbers of VOC infections and public health restrictions impacting patients and members of the public. In response to a request from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), our team aimed to synthesize the evidence related to public health measures and VOC.
Working with our decision-maker and patient partners throughout all stages of the research process, a rapid living review and jurisdictional scan were conducted to synthesize the evidence on SARS-CoV-2 VOC and public health measures. Five electronic databases, two pre-print servers and government websites representing Canadian jurisdictions, were searched between May and December 2021 at three week intervals. Articles related to VOC and public health measures, such as hand washing, vaccine modelling, lockdowns and physical distancing, were screened for inclusion. Traditional review methodologies were used in the screening and data extraction process. Reports were submitted to PHAC every three weeks and we worked with our patient partners prior to dissemination, to assist with the identification of key messages relevant for a public audience.
Over the course of the living review, eight deliverables were produced, including four public health updates and four jurisdictional scan updates. Between May and November, a total of 26,238 articles were retrieved, of which 166 were included in the most recent public health update (December 3, 2021). The number of studies meeting our inclusion criteria increased over time, signifying the growing body of literature on VOC and public health. However, the volume of pre-print articles, particularly in early stages, called for caution in interpretation of key findings. The jurisdictional scan revealed wide variation in public health measures across Canadian provinces and territories, with the most recent update (December 17, 2021) largely focusing on vaccine rollout and boosters. Working collaboratively in a large team, across time zones and including decision-maker and patient partners throughout the research process in the context of a living synthesis, a complex body of literature and tight timelines posed several challenges. However, our team developed a strategy that included regular meetings and opportunities for co-writing key messages to keep all partners involved. Of note, key insights provided by our patient partners were used by PHAC to guide their COVID-19 communication strategy to the public.
Despite the challenges with engaging decision-maker and patient partners in a rapid living review process, their involvement is essential in the development of consequential key messages for knowledge users. In particular, patient partners should be engaged in COVID-19 research, where findings directly impact patients and members of the public.Mari Somerville poster