The University of Florida has joined a nationwide study that will try to find out if vaccines are stopping the spread of COVID-19.
The university is seeking participation from about 1,000 students, who will be randomly split into two groups, half which will be vaccinated over the next few days. The other half will commit to not being vaccinated until the end of the study.
Over the next four months, the university will observe the groups by taking three blood samples, twice-weekly saliva tests and daily nasal swabs, which could catch virus growth in ways that might be missed in weekly tests.
“It’s a very important and unanswered question: Can vaccinated college students still spread the COVID-19 virus?” said Dr. Michael Lauzardo, deputy director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute and a co-investigator on UF’s portion of the study.
Dr. Kartik Cherabuddi, a professor at UF’s College of Medicine, said in an interview that the researchers hope the results will give people the data they need to move forward. That includes when it might be safe to host large, in-person events again or eat together indoors.
Unlike the MMR, Hepatitis B and Meningococcal vaccines that are required by the university, UF does not require that students receive a COVID-19 vaccine, though it will waive a return-to-campus quarantine period and biweekly testing requirements.
“In some ways, like many businesses and other institutions, we’re trying to feel our way through this,” Cherabuddi said.
The study will compensate all participants for their time and provide two-doses of the vaccine eventually to both groups. Any UF undergraduate or graduate student between ages 18 and 26 who has not previously tested positive for the virus or received the vaccine is eligible to enroll. Interested participants can visit preventcovidu.org for more information.
Cherabuddi encourages students to get vaccinated and said he understands any hesitance to participate in the study as vaccines become more readily available. But given that the majority of people in that age bracket do not experience serious illness if they contract the virus, he said, it’s more a chance to make a difference.
“I truly think people who participated in vaccination studies are our heroes,” Cherabuddi said. “This is an opportunity for young people to contribute to science and help rewrite our future.”