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LTU professor gets grant to answer the question: COVID-19 boosters how often?

Release Date: May 3, 2022

SOUTHFIELD—Just how often will we need booster shots against COVID-19 in the months and years ahead?

A Lawrence Technological University mathematics professor has received a $242,192 federal grant to help figure that out.

Matthew Johnston, assistant professor in LTU’s Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, won the grant through the National Science Foundation’s Launching Early-Career Academic Pathways in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences (LEAPS-MPS) program.

“The idea is to build mathematical models to determine what kind of vaccination schedules we should be adopting to prevent big outbreaks,” Johnston said. “We’ll study the effects of waning vaccine immunity and virus variants, such as delta and omicron, to better forecast future outbreaks and formulate targeted responses.”

Johnston said the study reflects the reality that “COVID will be around for the foreseeable future, certainly the rest of our lives, so we need to develop strategies which will keep the level of COVID at manageable levels, so we’re not overwhelming hospitals or seeing the drastic measures of the past two years—lockdowns, restricted border travel, not being able to live the lives we want to.”

Under the grant, Johnston will be the principal investigator, and will collaborate with Bruce Pell, also an assistant professor of mathematics and computer science at LTU. In addition, Johnston and Pell will employ five undergraduate students as research assistants during the two summers of the grant.

Johnston will use data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, broken down by vaccination status. The study will also consider the impact of vaccinating groups of people based on their health or demographic status, and will study the effects of new variants on spread rates and other variables.

“LTU is very proud of the work that Drs. Johnston and Pell are doing on a very timely topic,” said Sriki Kambhampati, dean of the LTU’s College of Arts and Sciences. “LTU will continue to invest in research and scholarship so we can contribute to the overall well-being of the citizens of Michigan and across the world.”

Kambhampati added that this grant, along with others recently won in physics and computer science, “dovetails nicely into an overall thrust of research into fundamental and applied topics in the college and at LTU.”

Earlier this year, Johnston released the results of a study showing that people fully vaccinated against the coronavirus were nearly 90 percent less likely to get sick, be hospitalized, and die of COVID-19. The study analyzed data on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths by vaccination status from the Commonwealth of Virginia between Jan. 23 and Sept. 11, 2021, during last year’s surge of the delta variant.

Johnston joined the LTU faculty in 2019 from San Jose State University. Before that, he was a Van Vleck visiting assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science degrees in mathematics from the University of Guelph, Ontario, and a PhD in applied mathematics from the University of Waterloo, Ontario.

Lawrence Technological University is one of only 13 private, technological, comprehensive doctoral universities in the United States. Located in Southfield, Mich., LTU was founded in 1932, and offers more than 100 programs through its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, and Engineering. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 11 percent of universities for alumni salaries. Forbes and The Wall Street Journal rank LTU among the nation’s top 10 percent. U.S. News and World Report lists it in the top tier of best in the Midwest colleges. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.


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