Brown-based IMPACT Collaboratory teams with CVS to monitor COVID-19 vaccine effects

A $2.5 million federal grant will enable the research team to track vaccine rates and safety for Medicare beneficiaries, who face increased risk of severe illness from the coronavirus.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The National Institute on Aging has awarded a $2.5 million grant to a research team based at Brown University and Hebrew SeniorLife to partner with CVS Health to develop a massive, data-driven monitoring system that tracks the long-term safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccination for Medicare beneficiaries.

The members of this group, who are age 65 and older and tend to have more diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other disorders, are at greatest risk for severe illness from the coronavirus, the researchers say.

“The goal is to leverage ‘big data’ to save lives,” said project leader Vincent Mor, a professor of health services, policy and practice at Brown’s School of Public Health. “With this project, we’re uniquely positioned to securely monitor more than 13 million CVS customers who are Medicare beneficiaries. We’ll be able to determine the prevalence of known adverse reactions to the vaccine and whether the vaccine protects them from coming down with COVID in the future.”

The new two-year project is a supplement to a $54 million IMPACT Collaboratory grant awarded to Brown and Hebrew SeniorLife in 2019 — 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.

Mor said that despite the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on elderly adults, the population was largely underrepresented in clinical trials for the vaccine, given its quick development and authorization for emergency use. In addition, Mor said that adults of advanced age, especially those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, may face barriers to vaccination such as dependence on a caregiver for transportation. In order to ensure safe, effective, widespread immunization programs for communities around the country, there is a significant need for information about the effects of the vaccine on this vulnerable population.

“This system will help us understand who gets vaccinated and who doesn’t,” Mor said. “It will also help us to determine the prevalence of known adverse reactions to the vaccine and learn how long and how well it protects the immunized against getting sick with COVID in the future.”

Since January, CVS Health has been administering COVID-19 shots in some long-term care facilities and retail pharmacies around the country. Starting on Thursday, Feb. 11, the company, which operates the largest pharmacy chain in the U.S., will offer immunizations to eligible groups at 335 pharmacy locations in 11 states. As more vaccines become available, the immunization effort will expand to include additional stores and states. 

Mor said the project marks the first big data effort to combine vaccination and pharmacy records with Medicare claims. Merging the data will enable researchers to explore associations between vaccination rates and factors like race and ethnicity, the presence of diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease, and health care system variables.

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

Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health, said it’s an example of the center’s focus on partnering with innovators, including health care providers, to evaluate new practices and strengthen quality of patient care.

“As a result of this partnership with CVS, we will be able to develop a better understanding of how the pandemic and vaccinations are affecting older Americans. We’ll be able to estimate the rate of adverse events attributable to the vaccine and estimate breakthrough COVID-19 illness,” he said. “The potential to use these kinds of data to improve public health outcomes for older adults is so very important.”

The work is supported by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health under Award No. 3U54AG063546-02S7.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story noted the grant amount as $4.2 million and also included an error in the NIH award number. Both facts have been corrected. The story has also been updated to include the current amount of the IMPACT Collaboratory grant as of March 11, 2021.