College students across the country are helping scientists answer a big question: Can the COVID vaccine stop someone from shedding virus, spreading it to others?
"Knowing whether or not the vaccine takes that extra step to prevent transmission in the community means that we could develop — or there could be development of — the policies and changes that need to be put in place so that folks can start to see what that end of that tunnel looks like," said Dr. Jasmine Marcelin, an infectious disease specialist and researcher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
"If the coronavirus is something that's going to be persistent, possibly a yearly thing like the flu, I think the research is going to be really important," college senior Olivia Parsons said.
Enter-Prevent COVID U. Just launched, the study will include 12,000 students from 21 universities. Everyone in the trial will eventually get the vaccine. Researchers will vaccinate half the students right away, while vaccinating the other half four months later.
"It was a great opportunity for me to get vaccinated myself while also helping with this study that will benefit the nation entirely," said college senior Chase Willie.
Volunteers have to do daily nose swabs, get tested twice weekly at an on-campus saliva monitoring program and complete daily questionnaires about symptoms on a smartphone app. They’ll also have their blood drawn occasionally.
Caleb Kumar, a college freshman, said, "I'm pretty interested in research and I'd love to be a part of it and help in any way I can."
It’s a lot of data, but the findings will help capture infections in real time and track the amount of viral particles in a person over the course of an infection. Work that these participants are happy to help with, as they think about what they look forward to post pandemic.
"Getting to see my grandparents regularly," Parsons said.
"Definitely traveling," Kumar said
"Just coming back to life where I don't have those questions in the back of my head. And it's not scary to go anywhere," Willie said.
Scientists hope to report results by fall 2021. Lindsey Theis, Newsy, San Francisco.
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