By: Lizzie Roehrs
Students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 can enroll in a study to help understand the effectiveness of vaccines in reducing the spread of the coronavirus. Participants will be paid and could receive the vaccine as soon as April 1.
The U. of I. vaccine study is part of a broader initiative of the National Institutes of Health to determine whether those who are vaccinated could still carry and spread the virus that causes COVID-19.
“We know that this vaccine, made by Moderna, is very effective at preventing COVID-19 in those who receive it. This study asks, is it possible that those who are vaccinated might still be able to spread the virus to other people?” said microbiology professor Joanna Shisler (EIRH), a virology expert who is leading the study. “Getting the vaccine doesn’t mean that you couldn’t pick up the virus and have some level of viral replication in you, which means that you might be able to pass it on to somebody who’s not vaccinated, even if you don’t get sick yourself.”
Students between the ages of 18 and 26 who have not yet been vaccinated are eligible to participate in the study, which will run from April through August.
All study participants will receive full vaccination: half in early April and half at a later date. They will use an app daily to track any symptoms they may develop and will monitor their viral status with self-administered daily nasal swabs in addition to regular saliva testing on campus and occasional blood samples. Participants will be paid for each swab and clinic visit, up to $900 total, and preference will be given to those who will remain in the Champaign-Urbana area throughout the summer.
The participants also will recruit two unvaccinated close contacts, who will agree to share their information with researchers. The contacts will enter any symptoms into an app once a week and also will be paid for their cooperation.
“The University of Illinois was chosen as a site for this study because of our SHIELD testing system, which involves frequent rapid saliva tests and robust contact tracing,” Shisler said. “We know that undergrads usually are living in slightly more dense populations, so we’re asking these people who are vaccinated to tell us about their close contacts. If a close contact tests positive through saliva testing, then we’ll do contact tracing and measure viral loads in the participants’ nasal swabs to confirm whether the vaccinated person transmitted it to them.”
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and the OSF HealthCare Heart of Mary Medical Center in Urbana will partner with Illinois to administer the vaccines, collect samples, instruct students in swab protocol and answer questions.
“We are thrilled to be assisting with this study, the results of which will be extremely pertinent in managing the community impact of COVID-19 infections going forward," said Dr. Jared C. Rogers, the president of OSF HealthCare Heart of Mary Medical Center.
“This study will help us understand the risk of coronavirus transmission to unvaccinated people,” Shisler said. “It will help guide public health policy as more people receive the vaccine, and also will help people who are not vaccinated understand their own risks. As always, being an informed consumer is very important.”
By: Lizzie Roehrs
Photos By: Fred Zwicky