RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – College students could soon help scientists learn more about what COVID-19 vaccines really mean for a return to normal life.
The Prevent COVID U study will track more than 12,000 college students from across the country, including UNC-Chapel Hill, to see the impacts of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.
The study has two purposes: the first is to learn what are safe behaviors for vaccinated people and secondly to determine to what extent vaccinated people can still spread COVID-19.
“This will help us understand how safe is it in bigger groups, in public, if people are vaccinated,” said Audrey Pettifor, a professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.
Pettifor is the co-principal investigator of Prevent COVID U. Pettifor said the Moderna vaccine was designed to keep people from getting seriously sick and dying from COVID-19. There are still a lot of questions to answer about the impact.
“They’re super effective and safe and so (that’s) great to know. This is going to give us a lot of assurance to know if I’m vaccinated, do I really need to worry about transmitting to my grandmother or other vulnerable people who may not be vaccinated,” said Pettifor.
She said students are a good population to study for several reasons. They have seen a high level of infections and live in high-density housing. That makes it easier for researchers to track transmission between close contacts.
Students will be required to swab their nose daily (but not the invasive swabs taken at a testing site) and collect those samples for four months before sending them off to a lab. They would also submit to a blood draw and regular COVID-19 testing. A daily symptoms check would be done using an app.
“We’ll be able to look at in detail, how much virus do we see, how much infection do we see in individuals and does that vary based on the variant of the virus they have? Does it matter whether they’ve had COVID in the past? Does it matter how long its been since they were vaccinated?” Pettifor said.
Researchers have a goal of recruiting 12,000 students from across 22 campuses. College students would be paid for their participation.
Click here to learn more about joining the study.
“It allows us to capture geographic variance in behavior, in vaccine roll-out, in mask wearing,” said Pettifor.
While some states have already started to open up and relax restrictions, Pettifor said she hoped their data would be used to provide the CDC, employers and schools with new information to guide policies.
Recent studies have shown the effectiveness the current vaccines but Pettifor hopes this study could provide solidified data.
“We’re hoping this with a lot of rigor answers these questions in a more definitive way,” Pettifor said.
Current guidelines for fully vaccinated people
The CDC published guidance on interactions between vaccinated and non-vaccinated people.
According to their guidance, indoor visits between fully vaccinated people who do not wear masks or physically distance from one another are likely low risk.
If the unvaccinated people are from a single household and do not have individuals at risk of severe COVID-19, they can visit with fully vaccinated people indoors, without anyone wearing masks.
However, if there are people within a household who are unvaccinated and at high risk for COVID-19, they should practice masking, distancing and choose well-ventilated areas.
In addition, the CDC said having unvaccinated people come from multiple households poses a higher risk of COVID-19 spread. They should also practice safety precautions.