UArizona Health Sciences COVID-19 Immunity Study to Test Vaccine Effectiveness, Enroll College Students

Feb 8, 2021

TUCSON, Ariz. — A University of Arizona Health Sciences study that is examining COVID-19 immunity and re-infection among frontline workers is expanding to include some Arizona college students while broadening its research focus to include COVID-19 vaccination effectiveness.

AZ HEROES, which was started to evaluate COVID-19 infections among the frontline workers using antibody testing results from sites around the state, including the Winslow, Arizona, site pictured, is now researching vaccine effectiveness and has expanded its participant eligibility to include some college students. (Photo: University of Arizona Health Sciences/Kris Hanning)“This new vaccine effectiveness aspect of the study will become even more important as COVID-19 variants with increased transmissibility emerge and expand globally,” said Jeff Burgess, MD, MPH, MS, principal investigator of the Arizona Healthcare, Emergency Response, and Other Essential Workers Surveillance study, or AZ HEROES, associate dean for research and a professor at the UArizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, and a member of the BIO5 Institute.

Serologic and cellular immune response testing will be performed on pre- and post-vaccination blood samples. Different vaccine exposures, including different vaccine types and adherence to recommended vaccine doses and timing, will be examined. Researchers will investigate whether vaccine efficacy is modified by socio-demographic characteristics, occupation or health status.

They also will examine:

  • whether vaccines modify illness severity, duration and infectiousness, or viral shedding, among essential workers who come into contact with the virus after they have been vaccinated;
  • the effectiveness of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines in preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 illness; and,
  • knowledge, attitudes and practices related to new COVID-19 vaccines among essential workers, and the impact of those factors on subsequent vaccination behaviors, including vaccine refusal, hesitancy or incomplete adherence to vaccination recommendations.

AZ HEROES Principal Investigator Jeff Burgess, MD, MPH, MS, is the associate dean for research and a professor at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, and a member of the BIO5 Institute.

College Students Included

College students can be at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure due to living situations that often include roommates, as well as social activities and work, volunteer or internship obligations. The study hopes to enroll 500-1,000 undergraduate and graduate students from Arizona universities and colleges by June 2021.

The current AZ HEROES study eligibility criteria for college students are as follows:

  • Previously COVID-19 positive via polymerase chain reaction (PCR), rapid antigen or antibody test
  • Enrolled as a student at least part-time (at least six units)
  • Working at least 10 hours per week
  • Have not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine

The AZ HEROES team invites all eligible college students to sign up for the study on the AZ HEROES website: https://azheroes.arizona.edu/

AZ HEROES Study

AZ HEROES was started last year by researchers in the Zuckerman College of Public Health and the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson thanks to a $7.7 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study’s initial goals were to evaluate incidence of asymptomatic and symptomatic COVID-19 re-infection among the state’s frontline workers (health care personnel, first responders and other essential workers) and to establish patterns of COVID-19 immunity over time in individuals who previously tested positive for COVID-19.

In addition to Dr. Burgess, the AZ HEROES research team includes: Bonnie LaFleur, PhD, MPH, a research professor of biostatistics and member of the BIO5 Institute; Janko Nikolich-Zugich, MD, PhD, head of the College of Medicine – Tucson’s Department of Immunobiology, co-director of the Center on Aging and member of the BIO5 Institute, Karen Lutrick, PhD,  assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the College of Medicine – Tucson, and Kate Ellingson, PhD, assistant professor, and Joe Gerald, MD, PhD, associate professor, in the Zuckerman College of Public Health.

To learn more about the study please visit the AZ HEROES website: https://azheroes.arizona.edu/

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NOTE: Photos available: https://arizona.box.com/s/5yc4pi8lw13rdidfdeiq2m9ifudbkg09

About the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health
Established in 2000, the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona Health Sciences is the first nationally accredited college of public health in the Southwest. Today the college remains the only accredited college of public health in the state of Arizona, with campuses in Tucson and Phoenix. The college enrolls more than 1,100 students per year across degree programs at the bachelor's degree, master's degree and doctoral levels. Through research, education and community engagement, the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health continues to find solutions to public health problems in Arizona, the Southwest and globally. For more information: publichealth.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram).

About the University of Arizona Health Sciences
The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. UArizona Health Sciences includes the Colleges of Medicine (Tucson and Phoenix), Nursing, Pharmacy, and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona, the greater Southwest and around the world to provide next-generation education, research and outreach. A major economic engine, Health Sciences employs nearly 5,000 people, has approximately 4,000 students and 900 faculty members, and garners $200 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: uahs.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).

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