VCU School of Nursing takes COVID-19 research on the road with mobile-RV laboratories

VCU Health buildings are located on the MCV campus in downtown Richmond. Photo by Alessandro Latour

Lindsey West, Contributing Writer

VCU School of Nursing recently joined the National Institutes of Health in researching COVID-19 in children ages 0-25 and their biological families, as children are increasingly experiencing long-term symptoms post-COVID-19, according to Assistant Dean of Research, Scholarship and Innovation at the VCU School of Nursing Patricia Kinser. 

Children ages 0-19 are accounting for 35.8% of new COVID-19 cases in the Richmond area in the last four weeks, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

“Compared to this time last year, the infection rates in children, it’s astronomically higher,” Kinser said.

Children ages 12 to 15 are eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, according to the VDH. Children 11 and under are currently ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, which has resulted in a recent spike of cases, Long said.

Vaccinations for children 11 and under will become available in descending age groups, starting with children ages 9-11. The Pfizer vaccine is looking to submit data for vaccine eligibility in children by early October and Moderna is expected to follow suit by early November. Children ages 5-11 will receive ⅓ of the adult Pfizer vaccine dosage and children ages 6 months to 5 years will receive 1/10 of the adult Pfizer vaccine dosage, according to the VDH.

Long-term effects of COVID-19 in children include fatigue, “brain fog,” difficulty concentrating and mental health symptoms, Kinser said. The NIH recently allocated $417 million in studying long-term COVID-19 effects and recruited the VCU School of Nursing to join the Life-Course Examination of General Affect and Neurocognitive Changes Following COVID-19 Infection (LEGACI) program.

“The reason we’re doing this study is to understand why some people who got COVID-19 are still sick many months after being infected, how this affects the body,” Kinser said. “We want to understand the myriad of symptoms and long-term outcomes that children and family are experiencing whether or not they had an infection.”

Partnered with Brown University, New York University, and Northeastern University, the LEGACI project is analyzing “prolonged cardiac symptoms, respiratory symptoms, altered smell and taste, etc.,” according to Kinser.

VCU Health houses VCU’s medical buildings, including the nursing building. Photo by Alessandro Latour

VCU School of Nursing will be taking data collection devices directly to the patients and test subjects by constructing mobile laboratories, according to Kinser.

“So essentially we’re retrofitting small RVs and putting all of our equipment into those RVs: mobile MRI machine, EEG, EKG, blood drawing station, everything so that we can actually take these to where families are instead of depending upon families to come into an academic health system, which can be sometimes overwhelming to families in the first place,” Kinser said.

Black populations have the highest rate of cases, hospitalizations and death in Richmond, according to the VDH

“So, families of color, for example, are disproportionately affected by COVID and also tend to not be able to participate in research studies for a variety of reasons,” Kinser said. “So, this whole concept of being able to bring the research to those communities or bring the lab to those communities, we’re trying to cut down on barriers for these families to participate.

VCU School of Nursing is continuously looking for participants ages 0-25 who both have had COVID-19 and have not had it. 

Public Information Officer for Richmond and Henrico Health Districts Cat Long has been collecting COVID-19 data weekly since the start of the pandemic.

“Most of our cases, zero to nine year olds, particularly, of the age range of our residents in Richmond and Henrico are experiencing more cases than the total cases they have previously,” Long said.

Virginia is expecting a COVID-19 vaccine for children to soon be approved, Long said. 

“The upcoming possibility that vaccines will be approved at five to 11-year-olds will be a big protective factor,” Long said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story previous stated VCU Health was partnering with the NIH. VCU School of Nursing is participating in the Life-Course Examination of General Affect and Neurocognitive Changes Following COVID-19 Infection (LEGACI) program.

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