Key takeaways:

  • A 2021–22 study by the same researchers showed that vaccines were highly effective at preventing symptomatic infection among health care workers. ​​​​​​
  • The COVID-19 landscape has now changed, with more breakthrough infections, the emergence of new variants and the availability of variant-specific boosters.
  • The current study, which will stretch into 2023, will offer insight on how to best protect health workers — and the public — in this new phase of the pandemic.

The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA has been awarded a $13.6 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue to study the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and the long-term impact of infection among U.S. health care workers.

The new yearlong grant project follows the 2020–21 Preventing Emerging Infections Through Vaccine Effectiveness Testing study, or PREVENT I, 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, co-coordinated with the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine, will examine the effectiveness not only of initial vaccinations but of boosters, including those newly authorized for specific virus variants, in a pandemic environment that has changed significantly over the past year, said Dr. David Talan, a professor of emergency medicine and infectious diseases at the Geffen School and co-principal investigator on the study.

“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,” he said. “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 will enroll 15,000 health care personnel at academic medical centers across the country, including Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Dr. Nicholas Mohr, a professor of emergency medicine, anesthesia and epidemiology at the University of Iowa, will be leading the research with Talan.

Researchers 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 or a loss of taste or smell. The study will compare the incidence of positive COVID-19 tests among the groups, 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.

“We are entering an important next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mohr said. “Studying the experiences of health care personnel will give us insights into how we can protect both health care workers and the general public as the infection threat and our vaccines, vaccine administration strategies and therapeutics change.”

Launched in May 2022, PREVENT II is a collaboration between EMERGEncy ID NET — a CDC-supported network established in 1995 and led by Talan that comprises 12 U.S. emergency departments and focuses on studying emerging infectious diseases — and a previously assembled group of sites that worked under Project COVERED. Project COVERED was a 20-center, CDC-funded effort that was unique in prospectively assessing the risk to emergency department providers of acquiring COVID-19 through direct patient contact, including through high-risk exposures like endotracheal intubations, and identifying ways to mitigate that risk.

In addition to Ronald Reagan and the University of Iowa, 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.