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Case study: Stepping up for London and the Afro-Caribbean community

Please volunteer as soon as you can, especially if you’re from the Caribbean community.

Born in the UK and having worked at Transport for London (TFL) for over 12 years, Yusuf is a true Londoner.  He is passionate about his work in upgrading the underground and in his support for the local community.

With a large family here and in Barbados and Jamaica, Yusuf is keen to do all he can to help protect them and others in the fight against COVID-19.

Yusuf volunteers at a homeless kitchen in west London but felt frustrated during the initial UK lockdown, wishing there was more he could do.  When he heard about the chance to get involved in research for COVID-19 he immediately seized the opportunity. 

He first got involved by downloading the King’s College London ‘Zoe’ app, which aims to track symptoms anonymously across the country. It was here he saw the call for people to sign up to the NHS COVID-19 Vaccine Research Registry.   

The registry invites anyone from the UK over the age of 18, to let researchers contact them about taking part in COVID-19 vaccine studies. You are not signing up to take part in a specific health study but are letting researchers know you're happy for them to contact you if they think you might be suitable to take part in their studies.

It was easy to sign up. As Yusuf says: “Franky it was a doddle.  It’s much easier than any of the usual forms you come across. It’s all logical and straightforward and there were no hoops to jump through.”

Yusuf had felt strongly about the need to get involved. He explains: “It worried me that I was seeing so many negative online conversations and posts from black friends.  At the beginning people were saying ‘no one knows anyone that’s got it’ and they thought it wouldn’t affect them.”

But Yusuf was aware of the dangers all too well. 

“I lost a close colleague at TFL; one that had been there as long as I have. It left such a large hole in the company and in the whole community.”

Following this, sadly Yusuf then also lost his uncle to a COVID-related illness. 

“Once you know someone who’s been affected by COVID-19, it makes a difference. Others were wary about vaccinations and I realised that people like me need to be seen to volunteer.  If someone from the same community takes part, it’s one level of separation removed.”

Only 24 hours after signing up for the registry, Yusuf was contacted and asked if he would like to take part in a vaccine study. The Novavax trial, running at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust was looking for volunteers and Yusuf had no doubts about wanting to get involved.  He was sent an online screening form and information by email as well as chatting to someone on the telephone. Just a few days later he was attending his first appointment.  

“I confirmed I wanted to take part on Monday and by Wednesday I was turning up to be checked over.  I went for the medical checks, just swab and bloods, things like blood pressure checks and a survey to ensure I was healthy and eligible to take part in the study. I then had the first jab on day one.

“Half the people got the placebo and half got the vaccine and I went back for a second jab  after 21 days.” 

From there, Yusuf was just asked to be aware of his health and report on any symptoms. He attended a follow up visit and could report via an app or by phone. He says:

“There are a number of ways to get in touch and you can always give them a call. There’s always someone there. It felt like a normal doctor’s visit and the staff are really friendly and professional.  They have a lot of people to see but I never felt rushed and everyone was very calm and friendly. It was a really positive experience.”

Since taking part, Yusuf has been in good health and continues his mission against misinformation.  He is aware of the increased risk of COVID-19 to black communities and is eager to encourage others to help fight COVID-19.         

“Unless people like me volunteer and are seen to volunteer - people won’t step up. I took this photo to say, ‘Hey look, I’m here, it’s safe, you can get involved as well’.  I hope that once they know someone who’s been vaccinated, others will sign up for the registry.

“I didn’t have an opportunity to volunteer during the first lockdown, so this is my way to be a part of the efforts to help London and to help Britain get through this.”  

When asked what he might say to others about taking part, Yusuf says:

“Please do it as soon as you can, especially if you’re from the Caribbean community. We are a very small percentage of the volunteers, but we are one of the most affected groups for COVID 19; it’s essential any treatments are tested for us.  We all need to step up. The African community need to sign up to help the community, help London and help the country fight COVID-19.”