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Franciscan University studying herd immunity, coronavirus

Biology major Michael Rohall and Franciscan University biology professor Dr. Kyle McKenna prepare to analyze blood samples for coronavirus specific antibodies. Photo courtesy of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Biology major Michael Rohall and Franciscan University biology professor Dr. Kyle McKenna prepare to analyze blood samples for coronavirus specific antibodies. Photo courtesy of the Franciscan University of Steubenville.

The Franciscan University of Steubenville is conducting a research study to better understand COVID-19 and herd immunity. 

Through its School of Natural Applied Sciences, the university plans to evaluate 500 students and faculty by the end of April. The study is led by biology professor Dr. Kyle McKenna. 

The Biology Department and the Franciscan Institute of Science and Health provided for the initial costs of the study, but it recently received a grant by the American Life League. 

According to a university statement, McKenna said senior nursing majors have already drawn blood from 200 individuals. The blood is then analyzed for coronavirus antibodies.

“We want to know what percentage of people on campus demonstrate an immune response to SARS-CoV-2 virus,” said McKenna. 

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“To achieve herd immunity which limits transmission of the virus, you need at least 60 to 70 percent of a given population to be resistant to infection, either through exposure to the virus or vaccination.”

McKenna said the study also has a pro-life component. He said the study has modified a commercially available antibody test so that the test’s cell lines were not derived from aborted fetal tissue. 

The university declined at the end of March to offer a COVID-19 vaccination site on campus. Cases of COVID-19 at Franciscan University were on the rise through March and April, according to the county health officials, The Pillar reported

Franciscan University president Fr. David Pivonka issued a video April 14 cautioning that the university faced a similar situation as last year, when in-person education was shut down due to rising pandemic levels. He said “the present trend is not sustainable.”

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