3 December 2021

Understanding How Well COVID-19 Vaccines Protect Service Members

Researcher to Watch: Air Force Col. (Dr.) Jason F. Okulicz

More than 777,000 people have died from the COVID-19 virus and 48.1 million cases have been reported in the U.S. to date. Developing, testing, and approving effective and safe vaccines and therapeutics has been the top priority of many military infectious disease researchers.

Air Force Colonel Jason F. Okulicz, MD is an infectious diseases consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General who has grown a portfolio of COVID-19 research consisting of multiple programs at three Texas-area military treatment facilities. He has successfully enrolled more than 1,300 patient participants in his work with Geneva to fight COVID-19.

In 2020, Dr. Okulicz collaborated with Geneva to conduct COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials for AstraZeneca’s lead COVID-19 vaccine candidate at Joint Base San Antonio. He is the site principal investigator for Geneva’s role in Operation Warp Speed at Brooke Army Medical Center and Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center.

Dr. Okulicz is also the principal investigator for two other Operation Warp Speed studies through his collaboration with Geneva. In June 2021, Dr. Okulicz received IRB approval to enroll patients in an adaptive treatment trial for outpatients with COVID-19. This study allows for the rapid evaluation of therapies to prevent disease progression and to reduce the serious complications of COVID-19 and transmission. The second study, which is still pending IRB approval, will evaluate if repurposed medications can make study participants feel better faster and reduce death and hospitalization from COVID-19.

In August 2021, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced that COVID-19 vaccination will be mandatory for all active duty service members. Dr. Okulicz is leading the Vaccine Effectiveness and Immune Response of SARS-CoV-2 Vaccines in Active Military Personnel (VIRAMP) study which aims to help the DoD better understand how well COVID-19 vaccines protect service members.

Currently, Dr. Okulicz is in the process of obtaining IRB approval for a new COVID trial to evaluate post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent symptomatic SARS-COV-2 infections.

“We know that COVID-19 vaccine uptake is critical to control the pandemic,” says Dr. Okulicz. “However, we are also aware that there are still many unanswered questions around the durability of protection and the impact of emerging variants.” This VIRAMP study will address those questions by analyzing the participant’s blood, saliva, and other health data who have received COVID-19 vaccines.

Dr. Okulicz is an infectious disease specialist and is board certified in internal medicine but also the Director of the United States Air Force (USAF) HIV Medical Evaluation Unit and the USAF subject matter expert for HIV clinical care and pre-exposure prophylaxis. In a recent study, Dr. Okulicz and colleagues analyzed data of 1,050 service members who were newly diagnosed with HIV between 2012 and 2017. This study found that 99% of service members who received continuous care through the DoD model for HIV care were virally suppressed within 1 year of starting antiretroviral therapy.

Among his other duties and studies, Dr. Okulicz also serves as an Expert Review Panel member for NASA’s Pharmaceutical Research Plan for Mars exploration. He is also a Professor of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University and the University of Texas Health Science Center.


Disclaimer: The views expressed do not reflect the official policy of the Army, Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

RTW Okulicz