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AZ HEROES Research Study Awarded $22M to Continue COVID-19 Immunity and Vaccine Evaluation

Older man receiving a COVID vaccine

CDC funding will support continuing research on COVID-19 immunity and vaccine effectiveness as new variants emerge.


The college’s AZ HEROES research study of COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness and immunity among frontline workers, families and children has received a $22 million award from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to continue for a third year of research.

Jeff Burgess, MD, MS, MPH

Jeff Burgess, MD, MS, MPH, leads AZ HEROES and is a professor in the UArizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

Over the next year, the Arizona Healthcare, Emergency Response, and Other Essential Workers Surveillance (AZ HEROES) study will continue to evaluate vaccine effectiveness, including different vaccine types and adherence to recommended vaccine doses and timing. The study gathers data on the duration of vaccine protection and the degree to which vaccines prevent more severe illness in cases when vaccinated individuals become infected, especially with new variants.

“The AZ HEROES team, under the leadership of Dr. Jeff Burgess, has done exceptional work,” said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins, MD. “The AZ HEROES study continues to provide important data about COVID-19 and vaccines, and the information gathered will benefit people around the world. This third year of funding shows the CDC’s confidence in the work being done at the University of Arizona Health Sciences.”

AZ HEROES began in 2020 and originally focused on incidence of COVID-19 infection, reinfection and immunity among health care personnel, first responders and other essential workers. Last year AZ HEROES expanded to include children age 4 months to 17 years and underserved populations.

“We have already learned so much from the AZ HEROES study that informs decisions about COVID-19 vaccines and how to limit the spread of the virus,” said Jeff Burgess, MD, MS, MPH, leader of AZ HEROES, professor in the UArizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and a BIO5 Institute member.

The most recent findings from the AZ HEROES study include new data on vaccine effectiveness for teenagers and children, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Karen Lutrick, PhD

Karen Lutrick, PhD, is an assistant professor in the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson’s Department of Family and Community Medicine.

“Our findings inform science-based vaccine guidance and public health decisions,” said AZ HEROES co-investigator Karen Lutrick, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson. “The AZ HEROES study shows community support for research and for the CDC’s effort to provide the best public health guidance possible, based on the best science. We are so appreciative of all of the study participants who provide us with this vital data.”

AZ HEROES was launched in 2020 by researchers at the Zuckerman College of Public Health and the College of Medicine – Tucson using an initial $7.7 million grant from the CDC. Early findings helped establish patterns of COVID-19 immunity over time in previously infected and newly infected individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. The next year, the CDC provided $15 million in funding that allowed the study to expand to include children and collect data on vaccination efficacy among vaccine types and age groups.

The AZ HEROES study includes data from a diverse population of approximately 4,000 adults and children. The study’s third year will assess the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in preventing infection or preventing symptoms when infection occurs. It will also examine if vaccine effectiveness is influenced by sociodemographic and health characteristics or prior infection history.

In addition to Dr. Burgess and Dr. Lutrick, the AZ HEROES research team includes Kate Ellingson, PhD, assistant research professor, and Ed Bedrick, PhD, professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the Zuckerman College of Public Health, and Janko Nikolich-Zugich, MD, PhD, head of the Department of Immunobiology at the College of Medicine – Tucson, co-director of the Center on Aging, and BIO5 Institute member.

“This research shows our abilities at the national level,” said Iman Hakim, MD, PhD, MPH, dean of the Zuckerman College of Public Health. “What we have learned and will continue to learn from this study will advance the public health response to COVID-19 worldwide and save lives. I’m very proud of our public health faculty and of Dr. Burgess’s leadership. This study shows how our faculty collaborate to deliver top-level research – research that builds on their complementary expertise and experience – when we need it most.”

AZ HEROES is still recruiting participants, including health care workers, first responders, and other frontline and essential workers, as well as youth age 4 months to 17 years. Participants with and without past COVID-19 infection can join. To learn more about the study, visit the AZ HEROES website.

You can read the news release from University of Arizona Health Sciences here.

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