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Do you need to wear masks after Covid vaccine? New NIH-backed study hopes to answer that


Nurses draw vaccine doses from a vial as Maryland residents receive their second dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at the Cameron Grove Community Center on March 25, 2021 in Bowie, Maryland.

Win McNamee | Getty Images

A new study backed by the National Institutes of Health aims to help doctors and public officials figure out what people can and cannot do after they get vaccinated against the coronavirus, including whether they will still need to wear masks and practice social distancing.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease within NIH, will test the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine’s ability to prevent infection of the coronavirus, limit the amount of virus in the nose and reduce transmission from inoculated people to close contacts.

“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,” White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a press briefing Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said fully vaccinated people can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people and some unvaccinated people without any precautions like wearing masks or maintaining distance. Vaccinated people should still mask up and practice social distancing in public, according to the CDC’s initial guidance.

Scientists still don’t know whether immunized people can get asymptomatic infections or act as carriers that spread the virus to others. As more and more Americans get vaccinated, this NIH study aims to answer those questions.

The randomized, controlled study will follow 12,000 college students aged 18 to 26 years old at more than 20 U.S. universities over five months. Preliminary study sites opened Thursday.

Study participants will be randomly split into two groups. Six thousand students will be vaccinated right away with Moderna’s two-shot vaccine spread 28 days apart while. Six thousand will be vaccinated four months later as an initial control group.

The students will swab their nose daily to test for coronavirus infection, complete electronic questionnaires and provide blood samples periodically.

Around 25,000 individuals identified as “close contacts” of participants will also participate in the study and provide nasal swab and blood samples. Researchers will use the close contacts to measure the degree of virus transmission from vaccinated individuals.

More than 133 million Covid vaccine doses have been administered in the U.S. as of Thursday morning, according to the CDC.

President Joe Biden on Thursday set a new goal of 200 million coronavirus vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office.

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