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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Gainesville retirement community participates in CDC COVID-19 study

As part of a quarterly blood draw, 155 Oak Hammock residents gave samples on June 9.

<p>Valerie Griffith, a Founders Club member of Oak Hammock at the University of Florida, participates in the CITRUS Study as a nurse puts a tourniquet on her arm on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. </p>

Valerie Griffith, a Founders Club member of Oak Hammock at the University of Florida, participates in the CITRUS Study as a nurse puts a tourniquet on her arm on Wednesday, June 9, 2021.

Wayne Forehand’s phone unfailingly rings every Monday at noon. On the other end: a call from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. 

Forehand, 80, is one of the 155 residents at the Oak Hammock Retirement Community participating in the COVID-19 Illness and Testing among Retirement Communities in the U.S. Study (CITRUS Study). The research focuses on the effects of COVID-19 in people aged 65 and older.

The data will be used to determine if and when a booster COVID-19 vaccine would be necessary, Oak Hammock CITRUS study manager and RN Tiffany Bach said.

“Nasal swab wrangler” Elisabeth Cherr, Oak Hammock’s CITRUS Study charge nurse, said the cutting-edge research allows residents, many of whom worked as professors, doctors and lawyers, to remain involved in society after losing the ability to safely socialize and volunteer in person.

“Everybody here has contributed to the CDC being able to say you don’t have to wear a mask anymore if you’re vaccinated,” she said.

Participants have had weekly nasal swab tests every Tuesday since January and had their blood drawn as part of a quarterly collection June 9. 

With the swift rollout of vaccines, the study shifted from focusing on the effects of COVID-19 among different age groups and populations to monitoring vaccine efficacy and longevity. Since the study’s start in January, CDC early findings have shown extreme effectiveness in the vaccines so far, Bach said. 

Sister studies, such as one in Winter Park, Florida, are focusing on the virus’ effects and vaccine efficacy among different age groups, health care workers, frontline workers and pregnant women, she said.

Forehand said he appreciates the weekly tests from the study, as he is assured he is protected and doesn’t have the virus.

With new strains cropping up and outbreaks happening around the world, Forehand hopes the research will help everybody.

After a different clinical trial likely saved her life, Karen Miller, Oak Hammock resident and CITRUS study participant, wanted to encourage more people to participate in clinical trials like this.

“Most of us feel good. We’re making a little contribution to this big body of knowledge,” Dr. Henrietta Nye Logan, CITRUS Study participant and consultant said.

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The blood samples will also help determine if the vaccines are robust against the variants, Dr. Logan said.

As a UF Professor Emeritus and former health science researcher, Dr. Logan said it felt natural to take on the study, from recruiting participants to organizing an informative webinar with the CDC.

“She has done a magnificent job,” Miller said. “I don’t think we would be anywhere near where we are if it were not for her leadership on this.”

Dr. Logan remembered her mother telling her about the 1918 flu pandemic she experienced as a little girl. Her mother had felt powerless to impact the daunting world around her, something that stuck with Dr. Logan since.

“But here I am, in a very privileged position in a fabulous place with other people who believe as I do that this is not just about me — this is about a greater good,” she said.

Although this may be the last pandemic in her lifetime, she is afraid it may be just the first for younger generations. She hopes participating in the study may help in some small way for the future.

“This is for a lot of people for a long time to come,” she said.

The final blood draw will be completed in September.

Contact Alexandra Harris at Follow her on Twitter @harris_alex_m.

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Alexandra Harris

Alexandra is a senior journalism major reporting on Science/Environment for The Alligator. Her work has appeared in The Gainesville Sun, and she filed public records requests for the Why Don't We Know investigative podcast. She has a passion for the environment.

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