Kaiser Permanente members invited to join flu vaccine study

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has selected Kaiser Permanente Southern California as a new site in its U.S. Flu Vaccine Effectiveness network.

Kaiser Permanente Southern California is inviting its members to participate in a nationwide study of how well flu and COVID-19 vaccines are working. It is one of 2 new sites selected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to join the U.S. Flu Vaccine Effectiveness Network, which runs the study.

“Every year, this network provides essential information that helps the nation prepare and adapt as the flu season progresses,” said Sara Tartof, PhD, MPH, an infectious disease epidemiologist with the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation.

“The CDC recognizes that our rich electronic health record and extensive experience in clinical research make us a strong partner for this kind of work,” said Dr. Tartof, who is leading Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s involvement in the study.

Kaiser Permanente Southern California joins 6 other sites in the U.S. Flu Vaccine Effectiveness Network. including Kaiser Permanente’s Washington Health Research Institute, which joined in 2011.

Keeping patients informed

Since 2003, the U.S. Flu Vaccine Effectiveness Network has monitored how effectively each year’s flu vaccine blocks infection with the flu virus.

Typically, the study enrolls patients who have flu-like symptoms and tests whether they are actually infected with the flu. Flu infection rates are then compared between those who are vaccinated and those who are not.

“These data help me keep my patients informed of how important it is to get vaccinated—particularly those who delay vaccination until later in the flu season,” said Bruno Lewin, MD, a family practice physician at the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center and co-investigator of Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s involvement in the study.

This year, participants across the nation will also be tested for COVID-19, which has similar symptoms to the flu.

“We’re taking advantage of the country’s existing flu-monitoring infrastructure as an opportunity to also monitor COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness,” Dr. Lewin said.

Easy to participate

Kaiser Permanente Southern California members who choose to participate will spend less than 1 hour answering basic questions about their health, providing nose and throat swabs, and doing an optional blood draw. As a thank-you for their involvement, each volunteer will receive up to $140 in gift cards.

“Everyone who participates will help the CDC report accurate numbers that are tremendously valuable for public health planning and for keeping all of us safe,” Dr. Tartof said.

Members with flu-like symptoms can enroll beginning on Monday, October 25 at the Kaiser Permanente Pasadena Medical Offices. Later this fall, members will also be able to enroll at the main Los Angeles Medical Center. Additional sites may open up as the flu season progresses.

“As an epidemiologist, I am so grateful for the support of Dr. Lewin and all of our other amazing clinical partners,” Dr. Tartof said. “This important endeavor would not be possible without their investment and collaboration.”