Maryland students playing role in major COVID-19 study

University of Maryland students are taking part in a nationwide COVID-19 study to determine whether vaccines, such as Pfizer and Moderna, can help end the pandemic by blocking vaccinated people from infecting others.

Starting Monday, the first group of 500 to 1,000 participants will undergo blood testing and commit to daily nose swabs for the next five months.

They will be among 12,000 students at more than 20 universities across the country who will be vaccinated and undergo twice-a-week COVID-19 testing to determine whether an mRNA vaccine will prevent infection and transmission.

“We know that being vaccinated minimizes your risk of infection, but we don’t know by precisely how much … the significance of this trial is pretty profound. This is actually the first large national study that’s going to tell us if being vaccinated will better enable a safe return to normal life,” said Neil Sehgal, assistant professor of health policy and management and associate director of the Health Systems and Policy Research Lab at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

Sehgal is also the leader of the Maryland branch of the nationwide study.

Up to 1,000 Maryland students will be enrolled in the trial during April. Students participating in the study will be compensated.

All students participating will be vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine — the first group of Maryland students will get their first shots on April 2.

“The reason college students were selected for this trial is because they are the perfect population for this sort of research,” Sehgal said.

COVID-19 infections have been associated with factors including congregate housing. College students live in dormitory buildings and other shared accommodations, and students tend to socialize more than other population groups.

Also, college students tend to experience less severe illness than older people when infected, and campuses already require robust COVID-19 testing.

Sehgal pointed out that during the deadly pandemic that began more than a year ago, young people, in particular college students, have been accused of not taking the pandemic seriously and that they pose a risk.

“In reality, it’s these young people that are going to help pull us out of the pandemic because the results of this trial are going to be very significant in determining how we chart our course out of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sehgal said.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is leading the study. To learn more, visit the study’s website Prevent COVID U.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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