A research platform led by a pediatrician at CHU Sainte-Justine is being set up in Canada to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on children.
POPCORN (“Pediatric outcome improvement through coordination of research networks”) received a $6.7 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, announced Monday by federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.
“This platform will support research teams in pediatric hospitals across the country and will facilitate the transfer and use of information to ensure better coordination of research results,” explained Mr. Duclos at a press conference at CHU Sainte-Justine in Montreal.
This new platform will bring together some 100 clinical researchers in pediatric health from 16 institutions in Canada and will be orchestrated by Dr. Caroline Quach, a microbiologist-infectiologist known to the general public as she has been a regular media commentator since the beginning of the pandemic.
The approach is new because researchers will be able to answer questions identified by policy makers as well as parents and youth.
“POPCORN will be able to address the burden of disease associated with the new SARS C0V-2 variants and the impacts of the disease on our children with medical conditions that make them vulnerable to complications,” said Dr. Quach.
POPCORN will also be able to assess whether measures implemented to control transmission have resulted in “collateral damage, including impacts on child development, learning and mental health,” she added.
The parents of a boy with an inflammatory syndrome, concerned about the situation, the mother came to testify about the importance of having this research. The onset of the pandemic was a source of concern for Valerie Roy’s family, while little information was available about the effects of COVID-19 on vulnerable youth.
All of the medical staff and personnel at Sainte-Justine UHC answered “a thousand and one questions” from the family and were able to intervene when her son, now 19 years old, was recently infected with the virus,” said Ms. Roy.
“My child was fortunate to get an adult medication. I hope that others will have the chance with Dr. Quach’s research to have better support and knowledge so that they can have the most normal childhood possible,” she commented.
“They have a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, which can have very significant consequences. Kory has been left with fatigue, but we don’t know if he can make up for COVID-19. There are still questions,” Roy continued.
Dr. Quach said that in general, COVID-19 “is a disease that is relatively benign in pediatrics,” with few children hospitalized. However, a “grey area” remains on longer-term complications, which is called long-onset COVID.
“There seems to be a certain proportion of children who will develop symptoms that will last beyond 12 weeks, but the percentage of children who suffer from this seems to be much lower than in adults,” she discussed.
The POPCORN platform and its researchers will follow two groups of children with syndromes similar to COVID-19 for at least a year,” said Dr. Quach.
POPCORN plans to provide evidence for better decision-making against COVID-19, but also against other pandemics or health emergencies.
Dr. Quach said the team’s vision is to expand the work of this network of researchers to other pediatric issues.