The COVID vaccine has continued to show incredible results as roll-out programs proceed but scientists are still unsure of if the vaccine can stop transmission of the virus. As of March 25, 2021, a study on the transmission of the virus for vaccinated people has gone underway.
Scientists are focusing on the viral load and what variables affect the risk of transmission through a cohort study, which is a long-term research approach that monitors participants over a period of time within a certain demographic. This study specifically will be focusing on 12,000 college students from 21 campuses, including the University of Maryland, Texas A&M and Indiana University; the study will be using the Moderna vaccine.
Researchers are planning to track volunteers to see how well the vaccine can prevent infection, this includes asymptomatic cases, and if it reduces viral transmission to their close contacts. The process will include a nose swab everyday which is to be dropped off at a collection box. The samples will then be sent to labs to check for any signs of the virus.
Scientists believe that college campuses will give the best data due to the lifestyles of college students. “High-Density housing, the impulse to socialize, and less fear of severe disease,” are some of the factors that contribute to high COVID infection according to Holly Janes, a Fred Hutch professor.
Dr. Anthony Fauci stated “we hope that within the next five or so months we’ll be able to answer the very important question about whether vaccinated people get infected asymptomatically, and if they do, do they transmit the infection to others,” at the White House briefing.
Some research already shows that when the virus enters through the nose it can take longer for the body’s immune system to clear it out, because of this it makes that person more likely to spread the virus unless their nose is completely covered. If the person is vaccinated, this can still occur unless the vaccination completely blocks the infection or if the number of particles shed through the nose are significantly reduced.
Researchers, like Dr. Sarah George, are also speculating that asymptomatic cases are the key to reducing or blocking transmission. Looking at a study done in Israel of those who received the Pfizer vaccine, researchers saw a drop of 89% in asymptomatic infections compared to those who were unvaccinated; this study has yet to be published in a peer review. A similar study in the UK saw an 86% drop in both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases.
Researchers believe that if there is no virus present in the nose or back of the throat, it is likely that that relates to no transmission.
Through reducing the viral load in a vaccinated person’s nose, experts are saying that it appears that the vaccine can help reduce the risk of transmission. But while the speculations await research to assess this, it is recommended that those who have received their vaccine should continue to abide by the protective protocols in place like masking and social distancing until further information is provided.