What is the real risk of getting COVID-19, and how serious can it be, for British Columbians who are taking medications that affect their immune system?


Study Title:

Risk and outcome of COVID-19 in patients exposed to immunosuppressive and immunomodulatory agents (IIA) in British Columbia. A population-based study.


Principal Investigator: 

J Antonio Avina-Zubieta M.D. M.Sc. Ph.D. FRCPC, Senior Research Scientist, Arthritis Research Canada; Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia.


Start Date:

July 2020


End Date:

June 2021


Why do this research?

Many patients with autoimmune disease use medications that suppress or modulate their immune system. Because these drugs weaken their immune system, they have expressed fear that they are more at risk of getting COVID-19, being sicker with it and having long lasting complications or dying.

Although the number of new cases of COVID-19 in British Columbia (BC) is decreasing, there may be a second wave of infection. To prepare for that, we need to understand the factors that increase the risk of getting the infection and the risk of becoming seriously ill. It is important to know whether people with auto-immune diseases, including the many forms of inflammatory arthritis, who take medications which alter their immune systems are at increased risk. Also, patients have questioned whether taking drugs such as Hydroxychloroquine (which is being tested as a possible treatment for COVID-19), will make them more or less vulnerable to COVID-19.

The findings of this study will help the health care system prepare for a second wave of COVID-19 and will allow health care professionals to better treat patients with autoimmune disease who develop COVID-19. The results will inform patients and their families know the effect of taking their medications on getting and recovering from COVID-19.


What will be done?

In this study, we will use information from a survey and from data gathered in the healthcare system to determine whether people in BC who take medications that affect the immune system are more at risk of getting COVID-19 and having serious outcomes compared to people who get COVID-19 but don’t take these medications.

Who is on the research team?



Jacek Kopec, MD, MSc, PhD, Senior Scientist, Epidemiology, Arthritis Research Canada; Professor, School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia

Diane Lacaille, MDCM, MHSc, FRCPC, Scientific Director and Senior Scientist, Arthritis Research Canada; Mary Pack Chair in Rheumatology Research, Professor, Division of Rheumatology, Associate Head of Academic Affairs, Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia

Hui Xie, MSc, PhD, Milan and Maureen Ilich/Merck Chair in Statistics for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases, Arthritis Research Canada; Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University

Jonathan Loree, MD, MS, FRCPC, Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia; Medical Oncologist, BC Cancer, Vancouver Centre


Knowledge Translation Collaborator

Alison Hoens, MSc, BScPT, Affiliate Scientist – Knowledge Broker, Arthritis Research Canada; Clinical Professor and Knowledge Broker, Department of Physical Therapy, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia; Research, Education, and Practice Coordinator, Department of Physiotherapy, Providence Health Care Research Institute


Research Staff:

Shelby Marozoff, MSc, Research Coordinator

Dami Ojo, B.Pharm, MPH Research Assistant


Funding Agency:

Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research