Unvaxed? Whether you want to take a Covid-19 vaccine or not, you can help others by enrolling in a UK study, and even get paid

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By Mallory Profeta
University of Kentucky

While everyone is understandably eager for a return to “normal,” the reality is that the coronavirus and its Covid-19 disease are still among us. The pandemic isn’t over (especially on a global scale), immunocompromised folks remain at risk and there’s still much to learn about this evolving virus.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky are part of “PreventCovidU,” a national study designed to answer urgent questions for ending the pandemic: How is the virus spreading among vaccinated and unvaccinated people? And while the vaccines are extremely effective at preventing illness, we know that vaccinated people can still develop infections without symptoms, so can those people unknowingly spread the virus?

The research team hopes the study’s results will inform science-based decisions about use of masks and social distancing after vaccination, especially as new variants spread and emerge.

Though the trial was originally open only to students in postsecondary education, it has been expanded due to the changing national landscape of vaccination.

UK is inviting adults between 18 and 29 who want to get vaccinated, and those who don’t want to get vaccinated, to participate in the study.

Participants are compensated for completing at-home nose swabs and a few blood draws in a UK clinic over five months. To be eligible, you must not have had Covid-19 or a coronavirus vaccine. Approximately 150 local volunteers and 12,000 nationally will be enrolled in the study.

Interested individuals can visit StopCOVIDKy.com for full details and an eligibility survey.

The study uses daily nose swabs to measure virus load in the noses of vaccinated people, and also invites close contacts of those people to be tested too. Daily testing is key to understanding the stealthy nature of the virus. Studies suggest a person is most infectious for only a few days, often before the onset, if ever, of any symptoms. Roughly half of infections have no symptoms, but can still be spread.

In young people, high-density housing, the impulse to socialize and less fear of severe disease are all factors that contribute to the high burden of coronavirus infection on college campuses and the 18-29 age group, says Holly Janes, a professor at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and one of the study leaders.

At UK, the PreventCovidU study is led by Drs. Richard Greenberg, Christopher Simmons, Philip Kern, T. Shawn Caudill and George Hoover. Greenberg brings four decades of vaccine development experience and is also leading trials of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at UK, which was the world’s top-enrolling site for the company’s Phase 3 single-dose trial.

“With PreventCovidU, the University of Kentucky adds to its already extensive clinical research effort to end this pandemic,” Greenberg said. “We’re thankful for everyone who chooses to participate in this historic effort — they become part of our family.”

UK’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science, led by Kern, is implementing the Johnson & Johnson and PreventCovidU trials at UK. PreventCovidU is designed and managed by the COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN), headquartered at the “Fred Hutch” center, which its founder, Dr. Bill Hutchinson, named for his brother Fred, who died of lung cancer in 1964 while managing the Cincinnati Reds.

The study is funded by the federal Covid-19 Response Program and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, led by Dr. Anthony Fauci.

This article includes reporting from the CoVPN and the Fred Hutch News Service.

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