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UCLA researchers examine effect of COVID-19 vaccine among health care workers

UCLA researchers are leading a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-funded study to evaluate the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines in health care. (Noah Danesh/Daily Bruin)

By Madelynn Mackenzie

April 10, 2021 9:55 a.m.

UCLA researchers are leading a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-funded study to investigate the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccinations among health care workers.

The CDC allocated more than $11 million to four programs conducting studies evaluating the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, including Preventing Emerging Infections Through Vaccine Effectiveness Testing, a study led by researchers from the David Geffen School of Medicine. The principal researchers working on PREVENT are David Talan at UCLA and Nicholas Mohr at University of Iowa.

PREVENT involves 16 medical centers across the country, which is the largest number of sites out of all participating programs, said Talan, who is also an emergency medicine and medicine and infectious diseases professor. This includes Olive View-UCLA, an affiliate of the David Geffen School of Medicine located in the San Fernando Valley.

The study began in early January and focuses on health care workers because they were the first people to get access to COVID-19 vaccinations, Talan said.

More than 200,000 health care workers across the 16 sites are under surveillance in this study, and more than 1,500 are currently enrolled as active participants, said Mohr, who is also an emergency medicine, anesthesia critical care and epidemiology professor at University of Iowa.

PREVENT intends to serve as an early look at the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines and how they affect transmission within a community in order to aid the vaccine rollout, Mohr said. The approach of this study differs from the initial clinical vaccine trials, which aimed to determine how effective and safe vaccines were for individuals, Mohr added.

“There is some vaccine hesitancy in the public,” Mohr said. “So, one of the things that we’re really trying to do is build that evidence base so that we can really understand, transparently, what the risks and benefits of vaccination are.”

The researchers hope to understand the comparative effectiveness of the different vaccines available as well as how employment practices within the workplace affect transmission.

For instance, by evaluating patient exposure, the researchers hope to be able to determine how effective the vaccine is at protecting a hospital receptionist versus a health care provider who regularly intubates patients from getting COVID-19, said Cole Wymore, an assistant clinical research coordinator in the emergency department of University of Iowa Health Care and member of the PREVENT research group.

While the research has primarily focused on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, researchers will examine others as they become available, Talan said.

“We hope and we expect that we’ll be able to confirm that the vaccines are safe and effective,” Talan added.

To conduct the study, the researchers contact health care workers who were tested for COVID-19 and invite them to participate, Talan said. For those who consent, information such as the individual’s vaccination status, symptoms, health care visits and test results is collected.

The team plans to publish preliminary results in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report within the next few weeks.

“My biggest hope is that it will provide useful information to guide people to make the best decision,” Talan said.

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