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Naval Medical Research Center Continues COVID-19 Study

March 11, 2021 | BY Marine Corps Sgt. Jesus Sepulveda Torres , 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force

Naval Medical Research Center is continuing its ongoing study to determine the long-term effects of COVID-19 to support the Marines participating in the COVID-19 Health Action Response for Marines (CHARM 2.0) study at Camp Johnson, North Carolina.

A sailor collects blood samples from a Marine.
Blood Sample
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Ernesto Santa Ana, with the Naval Medical Research Center, collects blood samples from a Marine participating in the COVID-19 Health Action Response for Marines (CHARM) study on Camp Johnson, N.C., March 3, 2021. CHARM 2.0 is a volunteer progression-based assessment to monitor possible health related issues as a result of COVID-19 recovery.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Jesus Sepulveda Torres
VIRIN: 210303-M-UG177-0007C

CHARM 2.0 is a continuation of an initial study that NMRC began at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in May 2020. The study is a volunteer progression-based assessment to monitor possible health-related issues as a result of COVID-19 recovery, and the team has resumed evaluating the initial volunteers from across multiple Camp Lejeune tenant commands.

Navy Cmdr. Andrew Letizia, the principal investigator for the CHARM study, said the research provides a critical approach to understanding the long term effects of the disease.

"This study helps understand the long term effects of COVID-19 amongst Marines," he said. "It will also assist in understanding how a Marine's immune system would be able to fight off new and emerging variants of the various SARS-CoV-2 strains, the virus that causes COVID-19, that are coming from around the world."

This was a unique opportunity, not just for the Marine Corps but also for the whole Department of Defense, to better understand the effects [of COVID-19] on our active duty population."
Navy Cmdr. Andrew Letizia, Principal Investigator, CHARM Study

Letizia said the CHARM studies began in 2020, with revisits this year to assess the original group of recruits, now Marines. With the most recent update to the testing, the team is tasked with scouring across the country to continue research on Marines from the original study.

"The study was conducted from May to November 2020, and it followed Marine recruits entering boot camp," he said. "We wanted to better understand all the Marines that had COVID-19 after infection, regardless of symptoms. Then we evaluated them for six weeks to see how their immune system has made progression."

A sailor conducts a health assessment on a Marine attached to medical equipment.
Health Assessment
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Moore, with the Naval Medicine Research Center, prepares to conduct a health assessment of a Marine participating in the COVID-19 Health Action Response for Marines (CHARM) study on Camp Johnson, N.C., March 3, 2021. CHARM 2.0 is a volunteer progression-based assessment to monitor possible health related issues as a result of COVID-19 recovery. The medical team from the research center evaluated volunteers from across multiple Camp Lejeune tenant commands.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Jesus Sepulveda Torres
VIRIN: 210303-M-UG177-0009C

The research team is currently reassessing the Marine volunteers, across military installations, as part of the CHARM 2.0 study. This week, the team reached out to leaders on Camp Lejeune to allow time for any original study participants to continue with their follow-ups.

"All participants from the first study were eligible to continue the research," Letizia said. "We're hoping following up with these Marines will allow us to better understand the long term effects of COVID-19 on an individual's health, in particular their heart, lungs, their mental health as well as their immune system."

One of the original participants, Marine Corps Pfc. Jada May, a supply chain and material management specialist student at Ground Supply School, volunteered for the follow-up study.

"I volunteered because, as a twin, I wanted to see if COVID-19 would affect me differently as well as others," she said. "I started in the program last August as a recruit and during the assessment learned that other Marines had an immunity built up which greatly helped with the study."

A Marine puts pressure on his arm next to vials of blood samples.
Blood Collection
A Marine participating in the COVID-19 Health Action Response for Marines (CHARM) study covers a needle hole after getting his blood sample collected on Camp Johnson, N.C., March 3, 2021. CHARM 2.0 is a volunteer progression-based assessment to monitor possible health related issues as a result of COVID-19 recovery.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Jesus Sepulveda Torres
VIRIN: 210303-M-UG177-0006C

May said that she's hopeful the research will benefit the effort to understand and fight COVID-19. Researchers are hoping the clinical results, over time, will benefit the understanding of healthy individuals during the pandemic.

"This was a unique opportunity, not just for the Marine Corps but also for the whole Department of Defense, to better understand the effects on our active duty population," Letizia said.

The CHARM projects have only improved the understanding of how naval medicine can impact COVID-19 relief efforts as well as support the health and readiness of the Marine Corps as an organization.

"CHARM 1.0 as well as 2.0 show the power of navy medicine to deploy and support the Marine Corps especially during this pandemic," Letizia said. "We really need to understand our foe as well as the ability of the individual Marine to fight off that infection, and we at the Navy Medical Research Center are proud to help with that."

(Marine Corps Sgt. Jesus Sepulveda Torres is assigned to II Marine Expeditionary Force)