Bloomington, Indiana – Researchers with the Indiana University School of Public Health in Bloomington are hoping to answer key questions about COVID-19 in light of a possible vaccine.

The nationwide study, analyzing 2,100 participants from major cities like Chicago, New York, Bloomington and Indianapolis, will focus on COVID-19 infection, reinfection, and the potential for long-term immunity to COVID-19.

Kevin Maki, adjunct professor in the school’s Department of Applied Health Science, will join IU School of Public Health-Bloomington Dean David Allison to serve as co-principal investigators of the study.

“We’d like to recruit four groups of people: people who have been infected previously, and those who have not, and then also people who have been vaccinated and people who have not,” said Maki.

Maki said as researchers follow subjects overtime, he does expect a percentage of people to get vaccinated during the follow up period of the study.

“So, we’ll have a lot of information about the effects of the infection itself and also the effects of the vaccine so we can compare them in people who have and have not been vaccinated,” Maki said.

 Maki said understanding how the immune system responds to infection versus vaccination can help researchers discover how effective a vaccine is and how long it may provide protection.

“No one was an expert in this virus a year ago,” Maki said. “Certainly, we have a lot that we still need to learn.”

Maki said his findings could also decide how many vaccines would be necessary in the years to come.

“This seems to be a virus that’s mutating very slowly and that’s good because it means that we may not need to get vaccinated every year,” said Maki. “Possibly we’ll need a vaccine every three years or five years… we just don’t know at this point.”

Enrollment for the study could begin as early as next week, pending proper supplies, with the first site scheduled in Chicago.

The study is backed by a philanthropic investment of $12.5 million from Jack Dorsey’s #StartSmall Initiative and the Chase and Stephanie Coleman Foundation and is set to run through 2021.

“Through this study, leading public health researchers from IU and around the country will seek to capture critical information about the evolution of COVID-19 and answer the key question of how long the immune system can protect individuals from the virus after they have been infected,” IU President Michael A. McRobbie said. “This study promises to have important implications for the effectiveness and longevity of a vaccine for the virus.”

Additional IU researchers will include School of Public Health faculty members Jon Macy, Molly Rosenberg, Christina Ludema and Stephanie Dickinson, and John Patton from the Department of Biology.

“Primarily, we want to determine whether prior SARS-CoV-2 infection, the development of antibodies and subsequent recovery from COVID-19 can prevent or, perhaps, mitigate the reemergence of COVID-19. And, if reinfection does occur, is it more or less severe than the initial infection?” Allison said.

Allison said that definitively answering these fundamental questions could guide local policies for safe reopening.

The study will span over at least one year, and preliminary results are expected in 2021.

Allison said that definitively answering these fundamental questions could guide local policies for safe reopening.

The study will span over at least one year, and preliminary results are expected in 2021.