Brown researchers awarded $ 4.9 million to study the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine in the elderly

To address the urgent problem of decreased immunity in the elderly to COVID-19 as well as vaccines designed to protect against the virus, a $ 4.9 million grant from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention United will fund a two-year project led by Brown University. researchers and led by a team spanning several institutions.

Researchers will examine the duration of protective immunity in the context of emerging strains of COVID-19, releasing interim data to the CDC as it becomes available to inform policy decisions in real time.

With the increasing number of cases of the Delta variant, we need to know as soon as possible who needs a vaccine booster and when they need it. This information on how specific immunity to SARS-CoV-2 infection declines with aging, disease, and in long-term care residents is critically important to developing a booster based strategy. on real-time data in this population. “

Stefan Gravenstein, co-principal investigator of the project and professor of geriatric medicine, Brown University

The CDC awarded the contract to Gravenstein; Elizabeth White, Brown Assistant Professor of Health Services, Policy and Practice; and David Canaday of Case Western Reserve University. The project is based at Brown’s Center for Long-Term Care Quality and Innovation, which focuses on research to improve the care and quality of life of older people living in nursing homes.

The new award builds on previous research on protective immunity over time conducted by Gravenstein and Canady. Their most recent study, published online in late August, found that COVID-19 antibodies produced by the Pfizer vaccine declined sharply in nursing home residents and healthcare workers six months after receiving their second injection.

For this study, the research team studied blood samples from 120 nursing home residents and 92 healthcare workers. In particular, they looked at humoral immunity -; also called antibody-mediated immunity -; to measure the body’s defenses against the coronavirus. The researchers, including a lab team from Harvard University, found that individuals’ antibody levels dropped by more than 80% after six months; the decline was similar among residents (median age 76) and healthcare workers (median age 48), according to the study. However, absolute antibody levels were much lower in nursing home residents who had not also had a previous infection than the comparison groups.

After presenting their unpublished results directly to senior CDC officials, the researchers were urged to release the data in the public domain as soon as possible in order to inform decision-making regarding booster vaccine recommendations. As a result, the researchers posted the findings as a preliminary report prior to peer review on medRxiv, an online preprint server for health science studies co-founded by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the University. of Yale and BMJ, a global provider of health knowledge. The study is currently being reviewed in a traditional peer-reviewed journal.

Another study by Gravenstein, Canaday and colleagues published last May found that within two weeks of receiving the second dose of vaccine and being considered “fully vaccinated”, older people who had not been vaccinated. not previously contracted the virus that causes COVID-19 responded considerably less to the vaccine than that experienced by young healthcare workers. Six months after vaccination, 70% of those nursing home residents had blood test results showing poor ability to neutralize the virus.

Pre-print research is helpful as the team continues to examine immunity in elderly patients.

“Besides the obvious value of a better understanding of who and when to strengthen against SARS-CoV-2 infection, we have also significantly innovated in how to effectively recruit and immunologically follow a long-term care population.” , said Gravenstein. “This methodological breakthrough builds on Brown’s strengths at the intersection of biology, aging, and public health research.”

The results so far support the CDC’s recommendation for booster shots -; especially for the elderly -; because of weakened immunity, Gravenstein said. The team will now study 800 to 1,200 nursing home residents who have received any of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines or who will recently receive a vaccine or a booster, if and when the boosters are recommended by the government. federal government, and assess their overall health and immune responses. to see if and how COVID immunity changes over time. The team will continue to produce and share data in six-month segments.

As older residents in the study are revaccinated, Gravenstein said, this work will show whether this vaccination not only boosts antibody levels and immediate protection, but also strengthens longer lasting defenses against new ones. incoming strains.

COVID-19 is not going to go away, Gravenstein said – on the contrary, it is more like the flu in its persistence, and as the virus becomes more endemic in modern society, “this information on immunity will be essential to know.”

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