CLEVELAND (WJW) – University Hospitals has been selected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to serve as one of seven locations across the country to study the effectiveness of flu and COVID-19 vaccines.

The CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease has awarded UH $12.5 million in grant funding, with the chance to earn $8 million more over the next five years.

“This is the first time that UH is joining,” Medical Director of Infection Control Elie Saade said. “We’re the only hospital in Ohio to do that. We will be able to tell the vaccine effectiveness and how well they work in a real-world setting.”

UH will identify laboratory-confirmed cases of acute respiratory illness due to influenza, SARS-CoV-2 (COVID), and other viruses of major public health concern. UH will do this among patients seeking healthcare for acute respiratory illness and related symptomology and will provide accurate estimates of the effectiveness of influenza, COVID-19, and other vaccines against respiratory virus-associated illness in that population. The researchers also will investigate the body’s response to the infection or the vaccine to help understand what can be done to lessen the risk of getting an infection.

Saade said UH was chosen because of its footprint and diverse patient population.

“We’re also having a strong collaboration with the VA here, who is also partner on this study, and with Case Western Reserve University who is also a partner on this study,” Saade said.

Flu season, which has been mild since the start of the pandemic is expected to return to normal levels this year. The xity of Cleveland’s Director of Public Health Dave Margolius said that’s because Australia has already returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“So the last couple of years, there hasn’t been much flu and we think COVID just out-competed the flu, and that’s why,” Margolius said. “But this year Australia had a what would be like a before-COVID flu season. That’s what we’re expecting in Cleveland.”

Saade and Margolius see this new agreement as a possible boost in reducing vaccine reluctance in Cleveland, where COVID vaccine rates are holding steady at 56%.

“My hope is that will be definitely helpful to help get patient’s trust and people’s trust in the vaccine,” Saade said.

UH’s agreement with the CDC runs from September 2022 to September 2027.