With a recent uptick in new COVID-19 cases and as vaccination rates stall in parts of the country, questions surrounding the level of protection offered by vaccines remain prominent. One researcher at The University of New Mexico is taking that question even further by looking at whether the degree of protective immunity that people get from mRNA vaccines is related to their level of physical activity or physical fitness.

Dr. Michael Deyhle

Assistant Professor Michael Deyhle works within the College of Education and Human Sciences in the department of Health Exercise & Sports Science. Focusing on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the study is looking to answer one primary question: if someone is highly physically active or physically fit, does their body generate better immunity against COVID-19 after vaccination?

“I am excited to do this study because as a researcher I am particularly passionate about two areas: exercise physiology, and immunology. This study combines both." – Michael Deyhle, UNM Assistant Professor

“Vaccination is one of the most effective lives-saving interventions of modern medicine, but vaccines are not always perfectly effective,” Deyhle said. “There are many reasons for the varied effectiveness of a vaccine. Some of these factors are out of our control such, as age and genetic factors. But some factors that may influence the effectiveness of vaccination are variables that we can choose to modify, such as nutrition and physical activity.”

Deyhle said exercise has also improved immune function against infections and improved the protective immune response generated from some vaccines (such as flu vaccination).

“Of course, we do not know yet whether this relationship holds for Covid-19 vaccination, so that is what we want to find out,” he said.

Deyhle said they will determine the level of the immune response by measuring the concentration of antibodies generated from the vaccine in the participant’s blood sample. The fitness portion of the study will include a questionnaire and a light physical fitness test. Researchers say this information is only going to benefit the greater community moving forward.

Participants will visit UNM’s Exercise Physiology Lab, located within Johnson Center if admitted into the study. During the visit, individuals will complete a physical activity questionnaire, provide a blood sample, complete physical fitness tests, and complete a body fat percentage measurement.

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UNM is New Mexico’s only R1: doctoral university with very high research activity as classified by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

“Learning what we can do in our personal choices and lifestyles to improve the effectiveness of vaccines against potentially deadly diseases, such as COVID-19, would be a valuable contribution to the fields of immunology, and exercise physiology. But more than that, this information could also benefit people in their personal lives” Deyhle said.

Deyhle said the study needs a total of 60 participants, ages 18 to 65, who have been vaccinated within the last six months with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. It will take participants about an hour to complete the study.

“I am excited to do this study because as a researcher I am particularly passionate about two areas: exercise physiology, and immunology. This study combines both,” Deyhle said.

If individuals are interested in joining the study, contact Deyhle at mdeyhle@unm.edu or 505-321-7388.