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If you’re vaccinated, do you still need to wear a mask? Researchers look to college students for answers



Morehouse School of Medicine first-year Chidi Ojukwu recently joined her first clinical trial, PreventCOVIDU, a college-based study looking at what happens after we get vaccinated.

The 23-year-old from Woodstock, Georgia, says college students may be the perfect group in which to track transmission of the coronavirus, which is typically spread through close contact.

“Just being a college student, being around college students, I know that they are the population that tends to meet, tends to go out, tends to be in areas, possibly, where they shouldn’t,” Ojukwu says.

Fatima Ali, the lead coordinator on the Morehouse School of Medicine arm of the PreventCOVIDU study, says college students are a fun demographic to work with.

“They’re a lot different than older adults,” Ali says.  “They’re very social and they like to hang out.  So, that means they can also transmit to more people. So they’re an important group to study.”

Now that nearly a third of American adults are fully vaccinated, Dr. Lilly Immergluck, the Principal Investigator for the Morehouse School of Medicine PreventCOVIDU study, says the students will help them answer two key questions.

“So, when you get vaccinated, and you are re-exposed to the germ that causes COVID-19, how well, does it prevent you from developing an asymptomatic infection, or shedding it, and how well does vaccination prevent you from transmitting it to your close contacts,” Dr. Immergluck asks.

The study will follow about 12,000 students at about 20 colleges and universities across the US along with their close contacts.

The students, who are between 18 and 26, will receive the Moderna two-dose vaccine.

Half o will be randomly assigned to get vaccinated in April; the other half will wait 4 months until July before getting their shots.

During the 5-month study, the students will fill out daily electronic diaries, swab their noses each day and give occasional blood samples, which will allow researchers to identify asymptomatic infections or transmission of the virus, Dr. Immergluck says.

“It really asks the questions we all what to know, which is, can we take our mask off if we’re vaccinated,” Immergluck explains.