A simple survey can help researchers learn crucial information about the spread and evolution of the virus.
If you have ever tested positive for COVID-19 at UC Berkeley, the team behind the IGI SurPASS study wants to talk.
The new study, led by Dr. Anna Harte, Medical Director of University Health Services, and Dr. Stacia Wyman of the Innovative Genomics Institute’s genomic sequencing laboratory, is looking to get more information about positive cases to be able to make better public health decisions moving forward. Harte, Wyman, and colleagues are especially interested in tracking the spread of SARS-CoV-2 variants and vaccine efficacy against variants.
Currently, all positive samples collected at UC Berkeley and by community partners that are tested by the IGI Clinical Laboratory are sequenced by Wyman and colleagues to track the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but having genomic data in isolation leaves many important questions unanswered.
“Prior to this study, what we had access to is CT value (the viral load of an individual), a three-digit Zip code prefix, and the date of the test. That’s it,” says Wyman. “The SurPASS study allows us access to the patient’s electronic health record, so we can then use relevant information — such as which vaccine they’ve had — to associate them with the variants that we’re seeing.”
Understanding how the different vaccines are performing is especially important right now, as new variants emerge and there are questions about the possible need for booster shots in the future.
“Everybody wants to know the performance of vaccines, and we don’t have enough data to know that yet — the only way we can know that is by collecting this kind of data,” says Harte. “I don’t just mean the SurPASS study, we’re all sharing data in the scientific community. The only way people will know better which vaccine will protect them from what variant is if this kind of work happens here and around the country.”
At the local level, this information can help UC Berkeley and surrounding communities make better-informed public health decisions, especially important as the Fall semester approaches and the situation with variants and outbreaks around the world continues to change.
“If we know that an individual with a certain variant has more severe symptoms, that’s really useful information. If we have access to symptoms, which vaccines they’ve had, what contacts they’ve had, we can learn an enormous amount about the behavior of variants,” says Harte.
“In other words, if we learn that one of the variants is spreading more rapidly or in a different way, we might adapt our recommendations — and we’re using it to inform the Public Health Department the same thing. It’s a collaborative approach to public health, which is really critical.”
To take part in the study, participants must be 18 years old or over and have received a positive test result from a test at UC Berkeley at any time. Participants are asked to take a survey that takes 15–45 minutes to complete, and will receive a $20 Amazon gift card for participating. Learn more at https://innovativegenomics.org/surpass/