Immunity

BISMARCK, N.D. – The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) announced that it has engaged the University of North Dakota (UND) and North Dakota State University (NDSU) in a project to understand COVID-19 immunity and experiences in North Dakota.

“The Immunosurveillance and Experiences of COVID-19 in North Dakota project, which is funded by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant, is a project that will help us to better understand the level of population immunity to COVID-19 virus from natural infection, vaccination, or both, and to understand the COVID-19 experiences of the citizens of North Dakota,” said North Dakota State Health Officer, Dr. Nizar Wehbi. “We are pleased to engage our two research universities on this project.”

Participants for the project will be recruited via mailed invitations sent to a random sample of addresses selected from a list of all U.S. Postal Service addresses in North Dakota. Participation is voluntary, and those who agree to take part can withdraw at any time.

“With the help of North Dakotans who participate in the survey, or testing, we will gain a deeper understanding of immunity and have valuable feedback from citizens that will shape public health response to COVID-19 or other public health emergencies in the future,” said Wehbi.

The project has two arms: 1). Survey-only, with a representative population sample of North Dakota, and 2). Survey with blood and saliva sample collection with a representative population sample from areas in the communities of Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck, and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Participants in the survey-only arm of the project will be invited to voluntarily complete a survey on three separate occasions over the next 18 months.

Participants in the sample-collection arm will be invited to complete the surveys, and to voluntarily participate in blood draws and receive a free test for COVID-19 (oral swab), in three separate events that are six months apart over the next 18 months.

Survey

The survey will collect information about experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic in North Dakota. This information can be used to understand how citizens experienced COVID-19, identify gaps in the system response, and inform public health response to COVID-19, future or other public health emergencies. Survey data includes self-reported access to vaccine and testing, experiences with COVID-19 symptoms, access to health care and health insurance coverage during the pandemic, opinions about the COVID-19 response, as well as general health and demographic information.

Sample Collection

Sample collection events will be held in four communities - Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck, and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Events will be staffed by project team members and phlebotomists from the North Dakota Department of Health, where blood samples and COVID-19 oral swabs will be collected. Blood samples will be tested using antibody tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Saliva swabs will be used to identify active SARS-CoV-2. PCR testing of the swabs will be conducted at the NDDoH lab.

“Different types of COVID-19 antibodies are produced based on vaccination or natural infection,” said NDSU Professor Dr. Paul Carson. “Serology testing can measure these different types of antibodies in the blood and indicate if a person likely has antibodies from vaccination, natural infection, or both.”

“We are doing this research to estimate how many COVID-19 infections there have been in North Dakota and to learn about how our communities may be protected against later infection of COVID-19, whether that protection is from natural infection, vaccination, or both,” said UND Assistant Professor Dr. Amber Lyon-Colbert.

Timeline & Data Privacy

Letters of invitation to participate will be sent to randomly selected North Dakota residents during January 2022. One adult (age 18 or older) in the household can complete the survey. If the invitation is for both the survey and sample collection events, one adult (age 18 or older) may participate in registration for testing. There is no cost to participate. All individuals invited to participate in the project will receive a small monetary token of appreciation, five dollars, as a thank you for participating. Those who participate in testing events are eligible to receive up to a maximum amount of $50. The data collection will begin in January and continue over a period of 18 months.

This project is confidential, meaning that participant identity will not be revealed to anyone outside of the project team. Each participant will be assigned an ID number, and the connection between the ID number and personal information will only be accessible to the project team.

All blood samples will be shipped to a lab at the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences where it will undergo serology tests by trained laboratory professionals.

All oral swab samples will be sent to the NDDoH Division of Laboratory Services, where trained professionals will run PCR testing to check for current infection of COVID-19.

NDDoH will relay COVID-19 PCR test results to participants. Antibody test results will be shared at the population level at the conclusion of the study.

Additional information about the project can be found online at https://www.ndsu.edu/publichealth/outreach/covid_survey/

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