A new study launched by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' COVID-19 Prevention Network at the U.S. National Institutes of Health will be offering the Moderna vaccine to over 12,000 college students nationwide — including at UNC.
The trial, Prevent COVID U, hopes to test the transmission rate of COVID-19 among vaccinated individuals with the Moderna vaccine. Over 600 UNC students will be enrolled in the study, which will take place over four months.
Dr. Sylvia Becker-Dreps, co-principal investigator and professor of epidemiology at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, said the study is being funded by the National Institutes of Health and is being administered centrally through the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute then made the study available to universities across the country that already has large research infrastructure in place, Becker-Dreps said.
There are 27 study sites at universities across the nation, Becker-Dreps said.
Audrey Pettifor, epidemiology professor at the Gillings School and co-principal investigator of the trial, said that students enrolled in the trial would be randomized into two groups, with one group receiving the Moderna vaccine group immediately and the other group receiving it in four months time.
The main trials that the vaccines were designed — and approved — on were looking at whether the vaccine prevented the disease, but there has not been much data yet on the rate of COVID-19 transmission with vaccinated individuals — which is what this study is trying to answer, Pettifor said.
Pettifor said that eligible students would be between 18 and 26 years old, have not yet been vaccinated and ideally would not have had COVID-19 before.
Students enrolled in the trial would have to swab their noses every day and drop their swabs off twice a week at UNC testing centers around campus, Pettifor said.
Pettifor said students will also be asked to invite their close contacts to participate in the trial, so they can help answer the question of transmission among vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals.
“If a person in the trial were to test positive for COVID, then we would be asking their close contacts to also swab their noses for 14 days and do some blood work to see if they get infected with COVID,” Pettifor said.
Emile Charles, a first-year student and a Youth Advisory Board representative for the trial, said that his role in the study is to make sure it is being performed in a socially responsible and equitable way.
Charles said that all of the recruitment materials for the study go through him, and he is able to make sure the materials around recruitment are community-centered to ensure the trial is diverse and representative of the student population.
“One thing to keep in mind while we are doing this is to make sure that we have a good diversity of participants and that means folks who come from a multitude of backgrounds and have a multitude of opinions on vaccines and on the pandemic,” Charles said.
This involves actively recruiting UNC students for the study from all backgrounds of different races, ethnicities and genders, Charles said.
Sophomore Jinia Chakraborty said that it is exciting to see UNC being proactive and doing its own research to study transmission.
“I think it’s great that the University is doing this so we can be a little bit safer and understand how best to open up school again in the fall since administration is hoping for in-person classes,” Chakraborty said.
First-year Charlotte Moore said she hopes that all students who qualify to receive the vaccine will do so, so classes can be in person again in the near future. While Moore is not a participant in the study, she said she has already received the Moderna vaccine.
“I think the trial is very interesting,” Moore said. “Hopefully they will be able to track the students and transmission rate pretty well so students can be back on campus in the fall."
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