Faculty in the News

It Feels Like Everyone Is Non-COVID Sick Right Now. What Gives?

It Feels Like Everyone Is Non-COVID Sick Right Now. What Gives?

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, was quoted discussing how the immune system works and how babies’ immune systems differ from adult ones. “Your immune system has layers to it,” Wherry said. “Think about it a bit like LEGO blocks.”

Scary Mommy

U.S. May Default to Annual COVID-19 Boosters Without Sufficient Data

U.S. May Default to Annual COVID-19 Boosters Without Sufficient Data

Last week experts signed a letter urging the FDA to put more emphasis on assessing additional parts of the immune response to COVID-19 vaccines, arguing that measuring T cells is critical to understanding long-lasting vaccine protection. “I think there are a lot of forces here that have had us almost myopically assessing antibodies as the guiding force in what immune measurements are most important,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, one of the letter writers. “The antibody trajectories don’t explain the fact that nobody’s ending up in the hospital.”

STAT News

Scientists Urge FDA to Assess T-Cell Levels In COVID-19 Vaccine Analysis

Scientists Urge FDA to Assess T-Cell Levels In COVID-19 Vaccine Analysis

More than 60 scientists from across the United States have signed a letter to the Food and Drug Administration asking the agency to include T cells as a measurement of effectiveness for COVID-19 vaccines, instead of just looking at antibodies. While antibodies protect against initial infection, T-cells protect against hospitalization, explained E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, one of the letter writers.

Inside Health Policy • Boston Globe • Biospace

Should You Get Another COVID-19 Booster, if Eligible?

Should You Get Another COVID-19 Booster, if Eligible?

The FDA has authorized additional COVID-19 shots for older Americans and those with certain immune deficiencies. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Institute for Immunology, spoke about the news to a wide variety of media outlets, including the Associated PressCBS News, and The Atlantic, among others. “I’m a firm believer in vaccines. I like the idea of physicians and immunocompromised and high-risk patients having options,” Wherry told the New York TimesWHYY also highlighted findings from a recent Cell study by Wherry and colleagues that demonstrated the utility of boosters, especially against the omicron variant.

When the Science Is Messy: How SciCheck Handles Scientific Disputes

When the Science Is Messy: How SciCheck Handles Scientific Disputes

Many experts agree that we don’t know what the future will hold when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a piece explaining scientific fact-checking, E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, was quoted. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned through this pandemic, it’s to be humble about the virus. And to be very, very careful about making predictions.”

FactCheck.org

Six COVID-19 Mysteries Experts Hope to Unravel

Six COVID-19 Mysteries Experts Hope to Unravel

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, was quoted discussing hybrid immunity and those who have not had COVID-19 yet. He noted that omicron as a first infection might not give people the immunity weapons that would be helpful later. “Omicron infection in previously unvaccinated, previously uninfected individuals seems to do quite poorly in inducing antibodies that can efficiently cross-neutralize other variants.”

STAT

Do You Need a Second COVID-19 Booster? ‘It Depends,’ Penn Medicine Experts Say

Do You Need a Second COVID-19 Booster? ‘It Depends,’ Penn Medicine Experts Say

In a study published earlier this month, Penn Medicine researchers found that two doses of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine generate significant antibodies. Though they wane over time, the researchers found that memory B cells are long lasting. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, and one of the study’s authors, explained what this means for people eligible for another booster and the implications for others.

WHYY

Q&A on Second COVID-19 Boosters for Older People

Q&A on Second COVID-19 Boosters for Older People

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, answered questions about the FDA’s approval for a second COVID-19 booster for older people. “I think having more options on the table for people is good. It gives physicians a little more choice and ease of recommending a fourth shot if they think it’s necessary,” Wherry said. But, he said, there is little to suggest that second boosters are needed for some of the eligible population.

FactCheck.org

Study Reveals How COVID-19 Infections Can Set Off Massive Inflammation in the Body

Study Reveals How COVID-19 Infections Can Set Off Massive Inflammation in the Body

A new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature revealed that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can infect certain kinds of immune cells called monocytes and macrophages. “I think what was interesting about this is it could provide a clue and perhaps even some druggable targets for why some of the inflammation that we see in severe COVID-19 patients might get kick started the wrong way or proceed out of control,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, who was not involved in the study.

CNN

Elizabeth Heller’s Lab Uncovers How Drug Addiction Can Create Lasting Changes in Genes

Elizabeth Heller’s Lab Uncovers How Drug Addiction Can Create Lasting Changes in Genes

Elizabeth A Heller, PhD, speaks about uncovering a love of neurology, her unique research, and running a neuroscience lab throughout the pandemic.

Read More: Penn Medicine News Blog


April 2022

A Second COVID-19 Booster Can’t Hurt — But It May Not Help Much, Either

A Second COVID-19 Booster Can’t Hurt — But It May Not Help Much, Either

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with The Atlantic about the FDA’s recent decision for Americans older than 50 to get a second booster shot. Wherry explained considerations to keep in mind.

The Atlantic

The FDA Approves a Second Booster Shot for Adults 50 and Older

The FDA Approves a Second Booster Shot for Adults 50 and Older

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, joined “Good Day Philadelphia” to discuss the newly authorized second booster COVID-19 vaccine and the new omicron subvariant BA.2.

FOX29

Should You Get Another COVID-19 Booster?

Should You Get Another COVID-19 Booster?

The FDA has authorized additional COVID-19 shots for older Americans and those with certain immune deficiencies. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke about the news, and who needs the dose and when. “I’m a firm believer in vaccines. I like the idea of physicians and immunocompromised and high-risk patients having options,” Wherry said.

New York Times • Bloomberg • CBS3 • Associated Press • CBS News • KYW Newsradio • Boston Herald

Pfizer CEO Pushes Yearly Shots for COVID-19. Not So Fast, Experts Say.

Pfizer CEO Pushes Yearly Shots for COVID-19. Not So Fast, Experts Say.

On March 15, Pfizer shared it was seeking authorization of a second booster for people 65 and older, and Moderna on March 17 filed for a second booster shot for all adults — creating pressure for politicians and their scientific advisers to act. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, was quoted.

Kaiser Health News

Omicron Subvariant Could Become Dominant Strain in US

Omicron Subvariant Could Become Dominant Strain in US

Health officials are keeping a close eye on the omicron subvariant that is behind a COVID-19 surge in parts of Europe and Asia. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, is quoted.

KYW Newsradio

COVID-19’s ‘Silver Lining’: Research Breakthroughs for Chronic Disease, Cancer, and the Common Flu

COVID-19’s ‘Silver Lining’: Research Breakthroughs for Chronic Disease, Cancer, and the Common Flu

The billions of dollars invested in COVID-19 vaccines and research so far are expected to yield medical and scientific dividends for decades, helping doctors battle influenza, cancer, cystic fibrosis, and far more diseases. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, was quoted, discussing research from the pandemic which represented a paradigm shift in immunology.

Kaiser Health News

Our Antibodies Can Tell Us About Future COVID-19 Surges

Our Antibodies Can Tell Us About Future COVID-19 Surges

While the coronavirus is tracked to see how it changes over time, experts discuss monitoring immunity too. Monitoring the status of our anti-disease protection would amount to a kind of immune surveillance that could tell us “when immunity wanes, and when it needs to be augmented,” explained E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

The Atlantic

Pfizer and BioNTech Seek Authorization of a Second Booster Shot for Older Americans

Pfizer and BioNTech Seek Authorization of a Second Booster Shot for Older Americans

Pfizer and BioNTech are seeking emergency authorization for a second booster shot of their coronavirus vaccine for adults 65 and older. The companies’ request is based on data from Israel, where such shots are authorized. But other studies have suggested that three doses of a vaccine are enough to protect most people for a long period of time. “We’re starting to see now diminishing returns on the number of additional doses,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

New York Times • The Atlantic • KYW Newsradio

Remembering the COVID-19 Shutdown in Philadelphia Two Years Later

Remembering the COVID-19 Shutdown in Philadelphia Two Years Later

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, joined “Good Day Philadelphia” to discuss the pandemic since COVID-19 shut down Philadelphia two years ago and the latest with omicron’s subvariant.

FOX29

The Coronavirus’s Next Move

The Coronavirus’s Next Move

Even if COVID-19 remakes itself many times, its offense will still knock up against some multilayered defenses. Slipping out of the grasp of antibodies isn’t that hard, but “just statistically speaking, I don’t think it’s possible to escape T-cell immunity,” explained E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, a contributor to a recent report that modeled various scenarios for the future with COVID-19.

The Atlantic


March 2022

Experts Present Roadmap for the Next Phase of Living with COVID-19

Experts Present Roadmap for the Next Phase of Living with COVID-19

A new report released Monday charts a path for the transition out of the COVID-19 pandemic, one that outlines both how the country can deal with the challenge of endemic COVID disease and how to prepare for future biosecurity threats. The roadmap was authored with input from Penn Medicine experts, including Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, PhD, vice provost for global initiatives, and E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology.

Politico • KYW

COVID-19 Booster Enhances Protection, Contrary to ‘Immune Fatigue’ Claims

COVID-19 Booster Enhances Protection, Contrary to ‘Immune Fatigue’ Claims

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with FactCheck.org about the benefits of booster shots, after comedian Bill Maher incorrectly said COVID-19 boosters were “useless” and could cause “immune system fatigue.” Data show that people who have received booster shots are less likely to be infected with the coronavirus, even against the now-pervasive omicron variant. And there is no evidence that COVID-19 boosting can exhaust the immune system.

FactCheck.org

Does Exposure to Omicron Help Our Immunity, Even If We Don’t Get Sick?

Does Exposure to Omicron Help Our Immunity, Even If We Don’t Get Sick?

If you’ve been dodging COVID-19, you might think your immune system is superhuman or you’re even immune to getting the coronavirus. But that’s not the case. If you’ve been wearing masks or social distancing, that’s providing protection, explained E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology. Even if you live with someone who is infected, your precautions might mean you aren’t exposed to a large enough dose of virus to cause an infection.

Wall Street Journal

What the Omicron Wave Is Revealing About Human Immunity

What the Omicron Wave Is Revealing About Human Immunity

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, and Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, were quoted in a Nature article discussing the wealth of insights yielded by recent research into SARS-CoV-2. “We are just at the beginning of a wave of discovery,” Wherry said.

Nature

Should We Go All In on Omicron Vaccines?

Should We Go All In on Omicron Vaccines?

While omicron-specific vaccines are in the works, experts have warned against trashing the original-recipe shots too soon, as we don’t know what the next major variant will look like. However, there is reason enough to avoid boosting in perpetuity with the original recipe. For the next round of COVID-19 shots, whenever they might be necessary, we may be better off using something else — an “insurance policy,” explained Rishi Goel, a PSOM student and research fellow at the lab of E. John Wherry, PhD, to help the body broaden its coronavirus scope.

The Atlantic


Feb 2022

Is an Omicron Infection as Good as a Booster? What the Science Says About ‘Hybrid’ Immunity.

Is an Omicron Infection as Good as a Booster? What the Science Says About ‘Hybrid’ Immunity.

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with the Philadelphia Inquirer about those who had omicron and what they should do about booster shots. Wherry discussed why people should never get infected on purpose, the immune system’s response to the vaccine, and how long to wait before getting a booster.

Philadelphia Inquirer

UK Report Did Not Find COVID-19 Vaccines Damage Immune Response

UK Report Did Not Find COVID-19 Vaccines Damage Immune Response

A video clip from a panel discussion on COVID-19 Monday is spreading on social media, misrepresenting what a report by U.K. health officials found. Multiple experts including E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, disputed the claim in the video that vaccines were doing damage. “It actually shows the vaccines are working to limit infection,” Wherry explained.

Associated Press

Will Omicron Leave Most of Us Immune?

Will Omicron Leave Most of Us Immune?

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with The Atlantic about collective immunity, which is key to ending a pandemic. But its building blocks start with each individual. Allowing for shades of gray, a person’s current immune status hinges on “the number of exposures [to the spike protein], and time since last exposure,” Wherry said.

The Atlantic

How Should We Be Using At-home Rapid Tests for Omicron?

How Should We Be Using At-home Rapid Tests for Omicron?

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, spoke with WHYY about rapid antigen tests and how they can used as a means of reducing omicron’s spread. “None of our measures of protecting ourselves or prevention are perfect,” said Wherry. “Vaccines aren’t perfect. Masks aren’t perfect. Tests aren’t perfect. But when used in combinations and in layers, we can dramatically reduce risk.”

WHYY

Vaccines Provide Best Protection From COVID-19

Vaccines Provide Best Protection From COVID-19

E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, discussed the latest on COVID-19, the omicron variant, and new research which concludes getting the vaccine is still the safest way to prevent COVID-19. “The bottom line message is that from symptomatic COVID-19 infection you do generate some immunity. But it’s still much safer to get your immunity from vaccination than from infection,” Wherry said.

Associated Press • FOX29 • Los Angeles Times

What Happens After Omicron? Four Key Questions About Where the Pandemic Goes Next

What Happens After Omicron? Four Key Questions About Where the Pandemic Goes Next

The omicron variant’s worldwide surge has upended early hopes for returns to normalcy and points to a more uncertain future for the pandemic, some experts say. “We are going to have a tremendous number of deaths among the unvaccinated,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology. “And we’re going to have — even if we manage to eke our way through this — the scar tissue in the health system, which is going to last for a long time and is not going to be something that recovers when infection rates go down.”

Buzzfeed News


Jan 2022

Expert Discusses Best Time to Use a COVID-19 Home Test Kit

Expert Discusses Best Time to Use a COVID-19 Home Test Kit

Over the holidays, Americans flocked to stores to try to find at home COVID-19 tests kits. E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, recommended that if you’re using the home test as a precaution ahead of a gathering, test 6-12 hours before the event. “That’s going to make sure that when you’re with other people you’re at a low risk for transmitting.”

6ABC