Brown-based IMPACT Collaboratory expands massive effort to track COVID-19 vaccine effects

A $1.4 million federal grant will enable the research team to add customer data from Walgreens, doubling the scope of the largest monitoring system of safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccinations for elderly people.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] – The National Institute on Aging has awarded a $1.4 million grant to a research team based at Brown University and Hebrew SeniorLife to partner with Walgreens to add customer data to a massive monitoring system of the long-term safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccination for Medicare beneficiaries.

The tracking system, established by the same team of researchers in February, was already the first big data effort to combine vaccination and pharmacy records with Medicare claims. Adding data from 13.2 million Walgreens customers to the information from more than 13 million CVS customers will effectively double the size of the securely monitored data pool.

The larger the population, the better, said project leader Vince Mor, a professor of health services, policy and practice at Brown’s School of Public Health.

“Since society cannot wait to vaccinate this population with an effective vaccine, we must establish an active post-vaccination surveillance system of a large population to report vaccine safety,” Mor said. “Monitoring rare adverse events requires very large populations. This project is allowing us to determine the immediate and long-term effects of vaccination on tens of millions of elderly people – nearly half the population of Medicare beneficiaries.”

Research shows that the members of this group, who are age 65 and older, are more likely to have a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or other disorders than younger populations, and are at greatest risk for severe illness from novel coronavirus. Mor said those already suffering from neurodegenerative diseases appear also to be at greater risk of serious neurological adverse reactions from COVID-19 vaccines.

Walgreens and CVS, the nation’s two largest pharmacy chains, have been vaccinating customers at stores across the country since February and in long-term care facilities since December. The existing research project matches pharmacy customer records with Medicare claims to create a database, updated weekly, that characterizes who is vaccinated, monitors adverse reactions to vaccination and examines the rate of “breakthrough” infection with COVID. Merging the data is enabling researchers to explore associations between vaccination rates and factors like race and ethnicity, diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease and health care system variables such as where beneficiaries receive care.

The new two-year project in partnership with Walgreens is the eighth grant supplement to a $53.4 million grant awarded to Brown and Hebrew SeniorLife in 2019 – one that is funding a project called the IMPACT Collaboratory, a nationwide effort to improve health care and quality of life for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, as well as their caregivers.

The project builds on the mission of the Center for Long-Term Care Quality and Innovation, which is based at Brown’s School of Public Health and will lead administration of the grant.

The work is supported by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health under Award No. 3U54AG063546-02S8.

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