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Case study: Former journalist urges south Londoners to join vaccine studies and end the COVID-19 pandemic

Read about a retired reporter's reasons for taking part in a COVID-19 vaccine trial.

A retired journalist is urging south Londoners to help end the COVID-19 pandemic, by taking part in ongoing vaccine research into the virus.

Ben, 64, who lives in Kingston upon Thames, took part in the Oxford/AstraZeneca trial of the ChAdOx1 NCoV-19 vaccine at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust back in September and October 2020.

The COV002 trial aimed to assess how well a broad range of ages could be protected from COVID-19 using the vaccine. University of Oxford sponsored the trial and it was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and backed by the UK Government’s Vaccine Taskforce. The trial took place at a number of sites across England, and was supported by the NIHR Clinical Research Network South London.

Ben, who reported on clinical trials for more than 20 years, believes ongoing research into COVID-19 vaccines is vital to protecting the world from the risk of future vaccine-resistant variants of this virus. He said:

“My main motivation for taking part in my first ever clinical trial was to help in the national and international fightback against this awful disease. The research team at St George’s Hospital were excellent and I’d like to congratulate them as all of their hard work has clearly paid off. The fact this country has returned to some semblance of normality is testament to the amazing results that can be achieved because of science. New vaccines, drugs or treatments would not be possible without the tens of thousands of people who volunteer every year to test them.

“Unfortunately, this pandemic is far from over; researchers still need to find out more information about how COVID-19 vaccines work best for young children, vulnerable groups and against the numerous variations of this virus. We need more clinical trials, more volunteers to take part in these studies and more evidence to help us to save more lives. Research is the only way we will be able to keep on top of this pandemic and future pandemics.

“There is a huge amount of data available that shows everyone how effective these COVID-19 vaccines are in reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death. I would certainly take part in another clinical trial and my advice to others is: do your research, look at the evidence, talk to your doctor and please ignore any misinformation.”

The Government estimates that approved COVID-19 vaccines such as ChAdOx1 NCoV-19 have helped to save more than 100,000 lives in England.

Ben was required to do a weekly Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test and attend appointments every few months at St George’s Hospital. He provided regular blood samples and kept a journal for two weeks to note his reactions to the vaccine. His vaccine trial injections were administered in September and October of 2020.

The trial was randomised meaning Ben didn’t know if he had received the ChAdOx1 NCoV-19 vaccine or a placebo (in this case a meningitis vaccine). After the research team confirmed he had been given the placebo, Ben received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine as part of the national vaccination programme earlier this year.

Professor Paul Heath, Principal Investigator of the trial at St George’s Hospital and Director of the Vaccine Institute at St George’s, University of London, said: “The Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial demonstrates the huge importance of clinical studies and their power to save lives, with millions of people now having received a dose of this vaccine. We are incredibly grateful for each and every person who has volunteered for these studies, as well as for future studies; they are helping to accelerate the roll-out of suitable COVID-19 vaccines for all people and to curb the pandemic.”

You can find out more about the COV002 trial on the University of Oxford’s website. The NHS COVID-19 Vaccine Research Registry is an online service which gives people the chance to register their interest to participate in COVID-19 vaccine research. You can find out more about the registry on the NHS website.