The Integrated Research and Development Laboratory at Marshfield Clinic Research Institute was recently included in two COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness publications in both adolescent and adult populatio‚Äčns.

The Laboratory runs more than 7,000 COVID-19 tests weekly as the only lab in the nation to support several Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-led studies.

Adolescent results show vaccine effective at preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection

On December 31, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an interim estimate that showed a full Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination was 92% effective at preventing a SARS-CoV-2 infection among adolescents aged 12-17 years from July-December 2021.

The Laboratory was responsible for running COVID-19 tests on the swabs that came via mail from the 243 adolescent participants each week from July-December 2021.

The findings were later used during the January 5 CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meeting where it was recommended to extend COVID-19 vaccine boosters to adolescents age 12-15.

“It is gratifying to see our team in rural Marshfield, Wisconsin do something that not only impacts public health policy for the entire nation, but is also something no one else is doing in the U.S.," said Jennifer Meece, Ph.D., Director of the Research Institute's Integrated Research and Development Laboratory. “It takes a team effort every week to open up the 6,000 boxes and process the COVID-19 tests."

Adult results prove valuable for tracking vaccine effectiveness since January 2021

The tests for adult populations conducted by the Laboratory and the corresponding results have been in use by the CDC since January 2021. On January 13, 2022, the CDC published an article that depicted the changes in vaccine effectiveness among COVID-19 vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals from January-September 2021.

Among 1,018 unvaccinated and 3,531 fully vaccinated workers, the monthly incidence of laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection in January 2021 was 13.9 people for every 1,000. That declined to 0.5 people for every 1,000 in June 2021. However, the Delta variant took hold in September 2021 and the rate jumped to 13.6 people for every 1,000.

In contrast, there was no reportable incidence among fully vaccinated participants at the end of January 2021, and incidence remained low until September 2021 when it rose modestly to 4.1 people per 1,000.

Below average facemask use was associated with a higher risk of infection for unvaccinated participants during exposure to persons who may have COVID-19 in the community.

“These findings prove that the COVID-19 vaccine was effective in preventing COVID-19 infections for those that were vaccinated," Dr. Meece said.

The Research Institute's role

The Research Institute received a $22.5 million grant from CDC in July 2020 and an additional grant for nearly $20 million in June 2021 to play a leading role in these COVID-19 studies across the U.S. These studies demonstrate in real world conditions the effectiveness of mRNA vaccines in both symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 infections.

The Research Institute's role in these studies is testing the specimens, which came from participants who self-swabbed and mailed them to Marshfield.

The vaccine effectiveness studies will continue to be updated, much like annual national influenza vaccine studies in which the Research Institute participates. Future updates may address the effectiveness of newer COVID-19 vaccines, including single dose vaccines, effectiveness of booster vaccines, and the protection against infection with other SARS-CoV-2 variants as those inevitably arise. The team will also continue to play an important part in the publications resulting from this work. ‚Äč