COLLEGE PARK, Md (WMAR) — "The big question that the whole nation is asking is... everyone is getting vaccinated but can the vaccination help prevent the further spread to people that aren’t vaccinated?" said Chase Willie, a senior at the University of Colorado- Boulder.
Limited evidence from trials and data emerging as vaccines roll out suggests — but does not prove — that they reduce transmission. Willie is one of thousands of college students participating in a study to figure that out.
"We know some proportion of people who are vaccinated are going to contract COVID-19 and what we really what to learn is are vaccinated people less likely to spread COVID-19 to others," said Dr. Neil Sehgal, leading the study at the University of Maryland.
Managed by researchers at the COVID-19 Prevention Network based in Seattle, the Prevent COVID U study offers the Moderna vaccine to 12,000 students willing to swab their noses every day for four months.
There will be no placebo injections; half of the students will get the vaccine in the beginning of the study and the other half will get it at the end.
Recruitment just started this week and nearly 200 UMD students have already signed up. Sehgal hopes to enroll up to 1,000 who are living in the College Park community and getting tested regularly as a condition to their return to campus.
Sehgal says this is an opportunity for students to contribute to science in a way that most others can’t.
"What’s been challenging, especially as someone who teaches undergrads and works with young people is that for a year now, society has seen college students as little more than a vector for COVID-19 and what’s really exciting about this study is this is an opportunity for young people to really contribute in a meaningful way to actually solving COVID-19," said Sehgal.
Sehgal said college students are the ideal population for the first viral transmission study.
"They reside in higher density housing, they socialize more than other groups but also as a condition to their return to campus, they are tested regularly for COVID-19," said Sehgal.
Results should be ready by the fall. The answer signaling, whether we are close to a return to normalcy, or if the era of masks and social distancing is likely to be with us for a long time.
"If we determine that over our 5-month study period, that the Moderna vaccine is really effective in preventing infection and transmission, that will give us a really valuable data point as we move back into society and get back to normal life later this year," Sehgal.
Although only the Moderna vaccine is being used, researchers say the results will also apply to the Pfizer vaccine, which uses a similar technology.
College students attending the following universities can learn more about enrollment by going to PreventCovidU.org.
Charles Drew University
Indiana University – Bloomington
Stony Brook University
Texas A&M – College Station
Texas A&M – Kingsville
University of Arizona
University of California – San Diego
University of Colorado – Boulder
University of Florida – Gainesville
University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign
University of Kentucky
University of Maryland – College Park
University of Nebraska
University of North Carolina
University of Virginia
University of Washington
Wake Forest Baptist Health
West Virginia University