UI Health Care helps lead CDC-funded study on effectiveness of vaccines, boosters in next phase of pandemic
When COVID-19 vaccines first arrived at the end of 2020, they were a game-changer, providing strong protection against a dangerous disease. Almost two years later, the pandemic is in a very different phase. Most people now have some immunity, either through vaccination or infection or both, but immunity wanes and COVID-19 continues to kill several hundred Americans every day. In addition, new virus variants continue to emerge.
In this context, COVID-19 vaccines, including the recently approved bivalent booster shots, remain a vital tool for preventing severe disease and death, and making sure that they continue to perform well is critical for protecting health workers and the public.
Researchers with UI Health Care are part of that effort as they continue to track the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and the long-term impact of infection among U.S. health care workers through the new study called PREVENT II.
“The new study extends our understanding of real-world COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness in the current phase of the pandemic,” says study co-principal investigator Nicholas Mohr, MD, UI professor of emergency medicine, anesthesia, and epidemiology. “The world has changed a lot in the last two and a half years, and the ways that we're trying to protect health care workers, and society as a whole, are different, too.”
Tracking vaccine effectiveness in health care workers
PREVENT II is co-coordinated by UCLA and UI Carver College of Medicine and is funded by a $13.6 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The new grant project builds on the 2020–22 Preventing Emerging Infections Through Vaccine Effectiveness Testing, or PREVENT I study, which was among the first to demonstrate the real-world benefit of mRNA vaccines in preventing symptomatic infection following their authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.
PREVENT II will extend the research by focusing on the effects of boosters, variants, and prior infection.
“The landscape of the pandemic has changed, with the recognition of waning vaccine-related immunity, the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants that can evade our host-defense systems, expanded booster recommendations and a growing number of people who have experienced past infection,” said study co-principal investigator David Talan, MD, professor of emergency medicine and infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Understanding how to best protect essential health care workers and apply those lessons to protecting patients, families and communities remains our highest priority.”
The project aims to enroll 15,000 health care personnel at 20 academic medical centers across the country. The research team will study health care workers with various degrees of vaccine and booster protection who get tested for the virus, including after experiencing common COVID-19 symptoms like fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The study will compare the vaccination history of participants who test positive and those who test negative for COVID-19, as well as the severity and duration of illness among those who test positive. The results will help researchers determine how effective the vaccines and boosters are at preventing infection and lessening the impact of infections when they do occur. At the UI, Mohr’s team is collaborating with the University Employee Health Clinic to enroll participants.
“Health care workers were the first people in the United States who were vaccinated. So, following their experience has been really important for the last two years, and it's going to continue to be important,” Mohr says. “By studying health care workers, we can draw larger conclusions about the continuing effectiveness of our vaccines.”
PREVENT II is a collaboration between EMERGEncy ID NET, a CDC-supported network of 12 U.S. emergency departments led by Talan, and a previously assembled group of sites that worked under Project COVERED.
In addition to University of Iowa Health Care and UCLA Medical Center, other medical centers currently participating in PREVENT II are: University of Massachusetts in Worcester; University Health Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri; Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia; Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts; Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston; Valleywise Health Medical Center in Phoenix; University of Chicago; LCMC Health in New Orleans; University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital; University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson; University of California, San Francisco, in Fresno; Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami; University of New Mexico in Albuquerque; University of Washington in Seattle; University of Utah in Salt Lake City; The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore; Duke University in Durham, North Carolina; and Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.