CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – So you've gotten a COVID-19 vaccine, now what? The question lingers, when can the masks be taken off?

What You Need To Know

  • Prevent COVID U is being sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

  • UNC Chapel Hill is one of 20 universities participating in the clinical research trial.

  • Students will identify 'close contacts' that will also be encouraged to participate in the study.

UNC Chapel Hill is participating in a nationwide clinical research trial dubbed "Prevent COVID U." The goal is to determine how well these vaccines prevent the spread of coronavirus and for how long.

Prevent COVID U is being sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and about 20 universities will be participating.

Cole Brown, a junior neuroscience major at UNC Chapel Hill is among one of the 12,000 students participating. He says the last year has been difficult.

"It's been a roller coaster. It's been difficult at times, a lot of online classes over Zoom, not being able to walk on campus like we used to, but I think our instructors have done a great job keeping us involved as much as they can," Brown says.

Brown, who is from Baltimore, says getting back to in-person classes is not the only reason for getting vaccinated and participating in the study.

"I want to be able to see my grandparents more regularly. I want to be able to hug them," he says.

The study will focus on a group of students who have received the Moderna vaccine, or will be receiving it within the four month period of the study.

“It’s really important we do this to fully understand that, so when we hopefully come back in the fall for in-person, we can have scientifically proven mandates on masks and know just how much we need to socially distance so we can do everything right and hit the ground running," Brown says.

Researchers say it’s not just about social distancing and mask mandates.

"We also need to know if this vaccine prevents people from getting low-level and asymptomatic infections, and also prevents them from being able to spread the virus to other people in their close circles," explaines Dr. Nadja Alexandra Vielot, an epidemiologist at UNC Chapel Hill who's researching Prevent COVID U.

The university is looking for students ages 18-26 who have not had COVID-19 and will be in the Chapel Hill area this summer to participate.

The study will also observe an additional 25,000 people who are in these students' inner circles to participate in order to observe transmission.

PREVENT COVID-U is expecting to have results ready before the fall semester.