COVID-19 infection, reinfection, and vaccine effectiveness in arizona frontline and essential workers: Protocol for a longitudinal cohort study

Karen Lutrick, Katherine D. Ellingson, Zoe Baccam, Patrick Rivers, Shawn Beitel, Joel Parker, James Hollister, Xiaoxiao Sun, Joe K. Gerald, Kenneth Komatsu, Elizabeth Kim, Bonnie LaFleur, Lauren Grant, Young M. Yoo, Archana Kumar, Julie Mayo Lamberte, Benjamin J. Cowling, Sarah Cobey, Natalie J. Thornburg, Jennifer K. MeecePreeta Kutty, Janko Nikolich-Zugich, Mark G. Thompson, Jefferey L. Burgess

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background: COVID-19 has spread worldwide since late 2019, with an unprecedented case count and death toll globally. Health care personnel (HCP), first responders, and other essential and frontline workers (OEWs) are at increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection because of frequent close contact with others. Objective: The Arizona Healthcare, Emergency Response, and Other Essential Workers Study (AZ HEROES) aims to examine the epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 illness among adults with high occupational exposure risk. Study objectives include estimating the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in essential workers by symptom presentation and demographic factors, determining independent effects of occupational and community exposures on incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection, establishing molecular and immunologic characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 infection in essential workers, describing the duration and patterns of real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) positivity, and examining postvaccine immunologic response. Methods: Eligible participants include Arizona residents aged 18 to 85 years who work at least 20 hours per week in an occupation involving regular direct contact (ie, within 3 feet) with others. Recruitment goals are stratified by demographic characteristics (50% aged 40 years or older, 50% women, and 50% Hispanic or American Indian), by occupation (40% HCP, 30% first responders, and 30% OEWs), and by prior SARS-CoV-2 infection (with up to 50% seropositive at baseline). Information on sociodemographics, health and medical history, vaccination status, exposures to individuals with suspected or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, use of personal protective equipment, and perceived risks are collected at enrollment and updated through quarterly surveys. Every week, participants complete active surveillance for COVID-like illness (CLI) and self-collect nasal swabs. Additional self-collected nasal swab and saliva specimens are collected in the event of CLI onset. Respiratory specimens are sent to Marshfield Laboratories and tested for SARS-CoV-2 by rRT-PCR assay. CLI symptoms and impact on work and productivity are followed through illness resolution. Serum specimens are collected every 3 months and additional sera are collected following incident rRT-PCR positivity and after each COVID-19 vaccine dose. Incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infections will be calculated by person-weeks at risk and compared by occupation and demographic characteristics as well as by seropositivity status and infection and vaccination history. Results: The AZ HEROES study was funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Enrollment began on July 27, 2020; as of May 1, 2021, a total of 3165 participants have been enrolled in the study. Enrollment is expected to continue through December 1, 2021, with data collection continuing through at least April 2022, contingent upon funding. Conclusions: AZ HEROES is unique in aiming to recruit a diverse sample of essential workers and to prospectively follow strata of SARS-CoV-2 seronegative and seropositive adults. Survey results combined with active surveillance data on exposure, CLI, weekly molecular diagnostic testing, and periodic serology will be used to estimate the incidence of symptomatic and asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection, assess the intensity and durability of immune responses to natural infection and COVID-19 vaccination, and contribute to the evaluation of COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere28925
JournalJMIR Research Protocols
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Essential workers
  • First responders
  • Health care personnel
  • SARS-CoV-2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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