UNC-Chapel Hill looking to enroll 600 students in COVID vaccine study to see if people can spread virus after shot

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- What scientists all agree on about the COVID-19 vaccines is they are the most-powerful tool on Earth at preventing serious cases of COVID and death from the disease.

But there are still things experts don't know about the benefits - things that could help us all get out of routine mask-wearing and back to normal more quickly. Students at UNC Chapel Hill may hold those answers.

Carolina students are preparing for scenes like the one that kicked off at the University of Colorado Boulder, last week, as the very first shots went into the arms of college students taking part in the new Prevent Covid U study. 12,000 students at 23 colleges nationwide agreed to daily nose swabs for four months after receiving the Moderna vaccine. The goal: to say once and for all whether the shot keeps vaccinated people from spreading the virus to others.
UNC is hoping to enroll 600 students.

Junior Hannah Liu said she's ready to roll up her sleeve. "I feel like I'd definitely be interested in it," Liu said.

Senior Sosa Evbuomwan jumped on board, too. "If I had the opportunity to be part of it I would do it just so I could be safer around my family members," she said.


Dr. Myron Cohen, a UNC epidemiologist, is serving as one of the directors of the COVID Prevention Network which launched the study.

"It's really important to know how the vaccine works," Cohen told ABC11. "(The study) will help us better understand the benefits of vaccination."

Dr. Cohen said the team believes college students, as a control group, offer a unique set of research benefits to study from.
"College students are intimately involved with many many people. We can see whether they had enough virus in their nose to transmit to the next person and see did they transmit to the next person," Cohen said.

The panel is striving to get a more precise answer to how the vaccine benefits people: Does it stop COVID by making you no longer susceptible to the infection in your nose? Or do we still get the infection in our nose, but our defenses are so great, the body fights it off?

"Precision is pretty important," Cohen said. "We'd like to get back, if we could, to a maskless society. The road to a maskless society is the kind of precision we're trying to get with the studies we're conducting."

And that is one of the big goals of the study -- to help understand if we need to keep wearing masks after we get vaccinated and remain socially-distant with unvaccinated people.

UNC students ages 18-26 are eligible as long as they haven't had COVID and plan to spend their summer in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area.
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