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A&M researchers and students work to determine if vaccinated people can still spread COVID-19

Posted at 6:53 PM, Apr 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 20:27:27-04

COLLEGE STATION, TX — Texas A&M University is taking part in a new study to determine if vaccinated people can still spread COVID-19.

Over 20 universities across the country are participating in this national study, Texas A&M is the only institution in Texas participating. Yet, the impact Aggies can have on the nation's COVID-19 recovery, is quite huge.

"We are a big state... a diverse state.. we really want anyone who is interested in participating in this science to come out," Dr. Rebecca Fischer said. "One of our student leaders at Texas A&M said to me.. 'this is really an opportunity for these college students to be a part of something big' and the way I see it is they can be a part of the COVID recovery."

Infectious Disease Epidemiologist with Texas A&M's School of Public Health and the Prinicipal Investigator of the Research, Dr. Rebecca Fischer overseeing the study, says the students will be tested every single day.

"...that way we can actually see if someone picks up the virus. That's the first goal, to see if there is any difference between people who are vaccinated and not vaccinated in terms of acquiring SARS-CoV-2," Dr. Fischer said.

Dr. Fischer says another goal is to see how much virus an infected person has... and how much can be passed on to others.

"Once someone gets infected... Is someone who is vaccinated going to have fewer viruses? Or the same as someone who doesn't get vaccinated? This is important because you can think about it in terms of what virus is available to be passed on to someone else," Dr. Fischer added.

Dr. Fischer says, there is a common misconception out there that being vaccinated means you can't pick up the virus.

" and we do know.. from what studies that have already been done, that the vaccines are really great at keeping people from getting really sick, preventing people from getting into the hospital and from dying, that is what the vaccine is really great at, but we don't know, how good it is at preventing us from passing the virus around," Dr. Fischer added.

Clinical Assistant Professor at A&M's Health Science Center, Dr. Joy Alonzo, another investigator on the study, says, the uniqueness of this study within this particular age group is unprecedented.

"We very rarely do studies targeted at this particular group. This pandemic has been quite unusual relative to targeted populations and unfortunately, the 18-26 year-olds have been a reservoir of disease, unbeknownst to them, that they actually experience asymptotic positives..... they don't experience severe illness themselves, but unfortunately, pass the illness on to folks that may be immune-compromised or may have higher risk and keep circulating disease in the population," Dr. Joy Alonzo said.

Dr. Alonzo says, understanding how the virus interacts with the 18-26 age group, in particular, is critical.

"If we want to move forward and have policies that make sense and be able to open up businesses and entertainment, safely, without having these huge outbreaks of severe disease that are going to impact our healthcare system, we actually do have to understand the disease in this population," Dr. Alonzo added.

Being a part of this kind of research study, understanding the transmission rate of the virus and the efficacy of the vaccine, Dr. Alonzo says, the impact of this research could change the world.

"Participation in this study is going to save hundreds of thousands of lives.. change policy... maybe even change the way we are doing things relative to infection control. Inform us whether or not we need to have this as a yearly vaccine... What will that look like? Who should we prioritize? All of those things will be answers to this study," Dr. Alonzo said.

Dr. Fischer says students participating will be engaged in this study every day for 5 months, once the study starts, half will get a vaccine, half will get theirs a few months later. The daily nasal swabs will begin as soon as the study begins.

According to Texas A and M Health:
To join this study, students must agree to not get any COVID-19 licensed or emergency use authorized vaccine until the study staff tells them to. Participants will be required to undergo a screening process, sign a consent form, and complete a questionnaire that will determine eligibility. Students could receive up to $1,000 for participating in the study.

Students enrolled at Texas A&M University and Texas A&M University-Kingsville who are interested in participating in the study can learn more here, or email GetVaxxed@tamu.edu in College Station or GetVaxxedKV@tamu.edu in the Kingsville area.