Karin Prien, Minister for Education, Science and Culture of the State of Schleswig-Holstein, visited the campus to learn about new findings about the ELISA study

During a pandemic, housing situation and understanding language can have a major impact on people's health. Refugees living in shared housing are at higher health risk than people living in an apartment or house. In shared accommodations, many people live in close quarters and they often share sanitary facilities and kitchens. Researchers at the University of Lübeck have new findings on this and provide recommendations for action.

The ELISA study (Lübeck Longitudinal Study of SARS-CoV-2 Infections) at the University of Lübeck investigated the spread of the coronavirus in the Lübeck population. 3000 people have participated in the longitudinal ELISA study so far.

A special focus of the study, led by Prof. Christine Klein, Prof. Alexander Katalinic and Prof. Jan Rupp from the University of Lübeck, is on the situation of refugees. In November and December 2020 and February 2021, they and their collaborators screened 100 people from eight shelters for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

Unique challenges

Why was this screening done? “Housing and access to health care present special challenges for refugees,” the researchers say. The goal of the study was to estimate the risk of infection during the COVID-19 pandemic. “As we also learned from the ELISA study, close contact with infected people, as can happen especially indoors, is the key risk factor for infection with SARS-CoV-2,” says Prof. Christine Klein, director of the Institute of Neurogenetics. Living in communal accommodation, as is sometimes the case for refugees or employees in the meat industry, for example, where distances cannot be observed or can only be observed in part, therefore carries an increased risk of infection.

In their study, the scientists found that 37 percent of those examined who lived in close quarters with other people had developed antibodies against the virus and had accordingly been infected beforehand. In the group of people who have more space available, 5 percent had formed antibodies.

The researchers' recommendation for action is therefore clear: “We recommend not only tailored testing strategies, but also high-priority vaccinations for this population,” says Prof. Klein.

“Education about the Corona pandemic, its consequences, and the efficacy and safety of vaccinations should be intensively pursued in the respective native languages,” is another demand. To participate in the study, interpreters were provided to the refugees. The willingness to be vaccinated against the virus was 30 percent in this group. In the group of people who speak and understand German fluently, the willingness to be vaccinated is significantly higher, at 80 percent.

Looking at the study as a whole, Prof. Alexander Katalinic, Director of the Institute of Social Medicine and Epidemiology, says: “The ELISA study has shown us many things: After one year of the pandemic, more than 95 percent of the population was still unprotected. Although the number of unreported cases was very high at the beginning of the pandemic, the measures taken in and after the first wave were highly effective. Such results ultimately underpin the importance of high vaccination coverage in the fight against the pandemic. Until this goal is achieved, it is still necessary to apply the well-known hygiene rules.”

Prof. Gabriele Gillessen-Kaesbach, President of the University of Lübeck, says: “For 16 months, researchers at our university have been trying to learn more about the spread of coronavirus in Lübeck and the surrounding area in the ELISA study. The study provides a scientific basis for many fundamental decisions. Based on the scientific results, we obtain important information about the transmission routes and the factors that promote infection. However, the results of the study also show that the housing situation also plays a significant role in the spread of infection. Making information available in different languages certainly has an impact on vaccination readiness.”

Karin Prien, Minister for Education, Science and Culture of the State of Schleswig-Holstein, says: “The results and findings from scientific studies such as ELISA have been an important decision-making aid for policymakers, especially in recent months. I am pleased and grateful that we have a well-positioned research community in Schleswig-Holstein. Currently, 178 research projects at 13 universities and research institutions in the state are dealing with very different aspects of the pandemic. It is important to cover the spectrum and also look at individual aspects such as the situation of refugees during the pandemic. The results show, among other things, that the language barrier is a crucial factor in combating the pandemic and how important education and information are.”

Source: University of Lübeck.