Armed Forces News

Cmdr. Raben Talvo, left, department head of the Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD) Office of Clinical Quality, and Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Angela Ramirez administer the hospital’s first monoclonal antibody (mAb) treatment to a COVID-19-positive patient, Jan. 26, 2021. (Navy photo by MCS 3rd Class Harley K. Sarmiento)

The Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences (USUHS) is conducting a multi-year study of the effects of Covid-19 on service members and their families. The Infectious Disease Clinical Research Program at the Bethesda, Maryland-based campus will focus on identifying ways to identify, treat and prevent illnesses related to the virus. The effort is known as the Epidemiology, Immunology, and Clinical Characteristics of Emerging Infectious Diseases with Pandemic Potential (EPICC). It will involve collaboration with commands, treatment facilities and laboratories across the country.

The research team wants to know more about how long the immune response vaccines lasts, how effective they are, and what happens when immunized patients become sick anyway. Additional attention will center upon the way the virus affects readiness, acute and chronic clinical outcomes, the efficacy of new treatments and vaccines, and the emergence of new variants.

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Service members, beneficiaries and military health-care workers who have had Covid-like symptoms can enroll in EPICC. Online participation also is open to any beneficiary age 18 or older who has been tested for the virus, regardless if the results were positive or negative.

The study began last March and will continue through at least March 2022 – longer, if researchers believe the extension would offer greater insight to the virus’s effects. It is taking place at the following military medical treatment facilities:

•      Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
•      Carl. R. Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood, Texas.
•      Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, Virginia.
•      Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
•      Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia
•      Naval Medical Center San Diego, California.
•      Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii.
•      William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas.
•      Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
•      Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

As of the beginning of February, more than 1,600 service members and beneficiaries have signed on to EPICC. Roughly half of those are active-duty members who have confirmed diagnoses of the virus. The study already has provided some results. For instance, researchers have identified a median recovery time of 14 days among active-duty service members, to include nine lost duty days. Another revelation showed that antibody levels remained detectable for more than six months after the infection subsided.

“Our findings are both surprising and a relief,” said Navy Capt. (Dr.) Timothy Burgess, director of the Infectious Disease Clinical Research Program. The information he said, “will enhance our ability to evaluate vaccine effectiveness in the population and if other reports showing high levels of protection are confirmed, our work may help boost confidence among those who are less certain” of the efficacy of vaccinations.