SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The University of Florida is going to attempt to vaccinate more than 1,000 students as part of a landmark COVID-19 study to find out whether young people who have received a vaccine can still spread the virus.
Two groups of 500 to 700 students each will be given the Moderna vaccine. The first of those groups will be vaccinated as soon as possible, according to Kartik Cherabuddi, an associate professor in the UF College of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases & Global Medicine.
The second group of students will be offered the vaccine several months later as part of the study.
“It’s a very important and unanswered question: Can vaccinated college students still spread the COVID-19 virus?” said Michael Lauzardo, deputy director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute and a co-investigator on the UF part of this study.
Clinical trials of the vaccines were designed to find out whether the vaccines prevented those who are vaccinated from having symptomatic disease as well as prevent serious illness and death.
The study is also expected to find out whether the vaccine prevents people from spreading SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19.
Participants in the study, which is called Prevent COVID U, will be randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first group will receive both doses of the Moderna vaccine and be monitored for four months. The second group will be offered the same study vaccine later and will be monitored for a few weeks after the second dose, which Cherabuddi said will be sufficient time to collect relevant comparative data.
In addition to the students, people who are considered “close contacts” of the participants will have the opportunity to be enrolled and monitored to track the spread of the virus.
“We expect that vaccinations are decreasing transmission, but we don’t quite know how much or what really is happening among certain groups such as younger people,” said Cherabuddi.
Overall, the study will try to enroll around 12,000 students at 22 universities and an additional 25,500 of those students’ close contacts. Other participating universities include Louisiana State, Texas A&M, and Northwestern universities.
Any UF undergraduate or graduate student between the ages of 18 and 26 who have not had a positive COVID-19 test result and hasn’t received a vaccine is eligible to apply.
According to Cherabuddi, the ideal participant would be someone committed to contributing to new scientific knowledge regarding the spread of the virus. Study participants will have a mixture of on-campus clinic visits spread over four months to include:
- Two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine
- Three blood samples
- Twice-weekly saliva tests
- Daily self-collected nasal swabs from the nostril
These tests could determine whether the virus is shed for short periods of time and how the variants play a role in immunity.
Despite Florida deciding to lower vaccine eligibility to 18-years-old on April 5, Cherabuddi said there are still good reasons to participate in the study. Students who enroll “have an opportunity to contribute to science and humanity.” Both participants and their close contacts will be compensated for time, travel, and effort.
“This is the best study to date looking at how transmission of the virus happens in vaccinated individuals -- especially in a younger population,” said Cherabuddi. “The findings could have wide-ranging impact by providing important scientific information for government leaders and public health experts about transmissibility of the virus after vaccination. It will likely answer the question of how long we should use preventive measures such as masks and social distancing.”
For more information on the study, click here.