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PD Sophomore Authors Two Peer-Reviewed Scientific Papers Advancing COVID-19 Research

A PD sophomore, Pavan Thakkar ‘24, has published two pieces of original research in peer-reviewed scientific journals, helping to advance knowledge of COVID-19 in the school setting.

Thakkar was inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic to research the impacts of the disease in schools. “In August 2020, there was no information about whether COVID-19 spread in schools,” Pavan recalls. So he reached out to Head of Upper School Eric Hedinger to ask about launching an independent study of local COVID-19 data.

Pavan collected data through January 2021 and then reached out to several research institutions for assistance analyzing and publishing his findings. He found help from The ABC Science Collaborative, an initiative coordinated by the Duke Clinical Research Institute connecting scientists, physicians, schools, and community leaders across 18 states to research and analyze COVID-19 data. He worked closely with Dr. Ibukun C. Kalu, M.D., medical director of pediatric infection prevention and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine. Other researchers contributing to the publications included Kanecia O. Zimmerman, MD, MPH; M. Alan Brookhart, PhD; Tyler R. Erickson, MS; and Daniel K. Benjamin, Jr., MD, PhD.

Pavan conceptualized and designed the studies, drafted the initial manuscripts, reviewed and revised the manuscripts, designed the data collection instruments, collected data, and carried out the initial analyses.

“Pavan is a highly-motivated and gifted student who was a delight to work with,” said Kalu. “Pavan was very involved in every step of the process and should feel truly proud of this immense accomplishment.”

That first set of data became a paper published on Feb. 16 in the Journal of School Health, a publication of the American School Health Association. Pavan’s study found that mitigation practices including daily health screenings, mandatory face coverings, and efficient contact tracing contributed to minimal secondary COVID-19 transmission during August 2020 through January 2021. It highlighted the effectiveness of health screenings in preventing symptomatic individuals from attending school, and also highlighted the importance of a strong school nursing team in monitoring cases and performing contact tracing.

Pavan and the other researchers continued monitoring data through November 2021, and began to evaluate the effectiveness of vaccination among students in grades 6-12, after vaccines became available to ages 12 and up in May 2021. The second set of data became a paper published in the journal Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, on February 22. That study found unvaccinated students had eight times the rate of COVID-19 infection compared to vaccinated students during the time period studied.

Pavan’s work involved a large time commitment pretty constantly over the past two years - on top of participating in student government, tennis, Model U.N., and Science Olympiad. “It's something I enjoy and am passionate about, so it never really felt like work,” he says. “Ultimately, I hope that these scientific findings help make real-world decisions and underscores the importance of a supportive school environment and mentorship. I am fortunate to have received this from Mr. Hedinger, Providence Day School, and the team from the Duke Clinical Research Institute."

“Pavan's curiosity was the driving feature to his research, and as his curiosity grew, so too did his passion to learn more and think more critically,” said Hedinger. “I am so proud of him!”