The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has lead to unprecedented public health efforts to manage and contain the spread of disease. Physicians, investigators, and public health experts from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine are combining their efforts, mobilizing resources, and developing tools to help save lives and prevent the spread of disease. From laboratories that are delving into the genetics and behavior of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, to the public health experts that are developing models to predict the disease’s spread, efforts to combat this unprecedented challenge are underway all across the medical school.


What do we know about the effectiveness of COVID-19 boosters, and how might they better protect us from new variants such as omicron? Alexis Demonbreun, PhD, assistant professor of Pharmacology, offers insight. She is the author of a new study that shows COVID-19 boosters seem to supercharge antibody response.

As the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is causing breakthrough infections in some vaccinated people around the world, scientists at Northwestern Medicine are developing and studying potential next-generation COVID-19 vaccines that could be more effective at preventing and clearing breakthrough infections. Pablo Penaloza-MacMaster, PhD, an assistant professor of Microbiology-Immunology at Feinberg, discusses work in his lab that could lead to better vaccines and treatments for coronaviruses.

Daniel Batlle, MD, professor of medicine in the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension at Northwestern, has been studying ACE2 and its potential therapeutic uses for many years. When the pandemic began, he proposed a hypothesis that soluble ACE2 could treat the SARS-CoV-2 virus and lead to survival and full recovery, and now he has some exciting preliminary results.

COVID-19 vaccines are being doled out across the nation, almost exclusively to adults. Pfizer's vaccine has been authorized for ages 16 and up and Moderna's vaccine for 18 and up. So when might younger children be vaccinated for COVID-19? And what needs to happen before then? William Muller, MD, PhD, offers insight.

Since SARS-CoV-2 was discovered in Illinois over a year ago, Feinberg scientists have been tracking the evolution of the disease in the Chicago area. Ramón Lorenzo Redondo, PhD, research assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, is part of the team leading this work. He talks about the team's research, the new COVID-19 variants and how the vaccines on the market today stand up to them.

A team of Northwestern scientists have come together from across disciplines to develop a COVID-19 antibody test designed for at-home use. Elizabeth McNally, MD, PhD, is part of the team working on this test to determine prior exposure to the virus.

Although COVID-19 doesn't necessarily discriminate, some communities are far more susceptible to the disease. People who are black or African-American are more likely to contract the virus - and to die from it. Clyde Yancy, MD, discusses reasons for these outcomes and the need to fully address health care disparities in America.

Media Coverage

NBC 5 Chicago

Doctors at Northwestern Medicine and the American Lung Association are seeking to better understand what causes lung damage and disease, and to do so they are launching a first-ever study of the lungs of thousands of millennials. "It's really important that we enroll young adults right now at the time of their peak lung health, so that we can study the behaviors, the social factors, the environmental factors that are contributing to the development of lung diseases," said Mercedes Carnethon, PhD, principal study investigator and professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. With various laboratory tests, questionnaires and imaging, the goal of the first of its kind study is to analyze how environment, lifestyle and physical activity impact the lungs.
WBEZ Chicago

In clinical trials, the antiviral drug Paxlovid cut hospitalization and death rates in high-risk COVID-19 patients by 89%. But some people have struggled to get a prescription due to supply chain bottlenecks and confusion over eligibility. According to Dr. Robert Murphy, professor of medicine in infectious diseases at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, it has been difficult to get because patients need to get a prescription from their doctor and find a pharmacy that has Paxlovid in stock. However, in recent weeks organization in pharmacies has drastically improved allowing better access to the drug.
ABC News

Moderna on Thursday asked U.S. regulators to authorize low doses of its COVID-19 vaccine for children younger than 6, a long-awaited move toward potentially. opening shots for millions of tots by summer. In a study of kids ages 6 months through 5 years, two Moderna shots - each a quarter of the regular dose - triggered high levels of virus-fighting antibodies. The vaccine proved between about 40% and 50% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 during the trial and the company will test a child booster dose. "Down the road I would anticipate it's going to be a three-shot series," said Dr. Bill Muller of Northwestern University who helped with Moderna's child studies.
US News & World Report

Given that at its peak in January, more than 800,000 people were getting COVID-19 on average each day, questions have swirled about how some people have managed to escape the coronavirus so far. According to Robert Murphy, the executive director of the Havey Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, "Especially early on, there were a lot of asymptomatic cases. They either had very minor symptoms that they didn't expect anything funny or anything more severe, or they had no symptoms at all." Further, those who haven't gotten the coronavirus are "very much at risk" and Murphy believes "every unvaccinated person is going to get it before this is over."

Long COVID is a looming health crisis, estimated to affect up to 30% of people infected with coronavirus. Paxlovid, which combines a new Pfizer pill with the old antiviral ritonavir, is currently authorized for use in the first days of a COVID infection to prevent severe disease in high-risk patients. Dr. Igor Koralnik, who heads Northwestern Medicine's clinic focused on the neurological effects of long COVID, noted the long list of widely-used medications that are affected by ritonavir and said Paxlovid "can't be used willy nilly...there should be studies."
The Washington Post

The reality is that people are experiencing many different pandemics depending on their job, health, socioeconomic status, housing and access to medical care. According to Mercedes Carnethon, PhD, professor and vice chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, "It's been a tale of two pandemics all along. For some people, the pandemic has been an inconvenience, whereas for other people, the pandemic has led to substantial concerns and loss."

Researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago studied 1,149 women who received at least one dose of a vaccine from Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson between 30 days of contraception and 14 weeks into gestation, which is when the fetus is most vulnerable to developing birth defects due to medications taken by the mother. Women vaccinated shortly before or early in pregnancy were not at a higher risk for having an abnormality in the fetus detected.
ABC News

Doctors have been urging their pregnant patients to get as much protection as possible against COVID-19. A new study published by Epic Research showed that pregnancy doubles the risk of breakthrough COVID-19 infections. According to Dr. Melissa Simon, a Northwestern Medicine OB/GYN, "Their immune system is working hard to protect the baby and sometimes makes the pregnant person more vulnerable to infections."
US News & World Report

Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine works in babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Vaccinating the littlest "has been somewhat of a moving target over the last couple months," said Dr. Bill Muller of Northwestern University, who is helping study Moderna's pediatric doses.
NBC 5 Chicago

The BA.2 variant, also known as "stealth omicron," a more transmissible version of the omicron variant, is beginning to grow in the U.S. Northwestern Medicine's Center for Pathogen Genomics and Microbial Evolution said the subvariant was found in a Chicago resident in January. Based on how quickly new variants have arisen, some experts suggest the next one could arrive as early as May.