Case study: Supporting COVID-19 vaccine trials at the Hampshire Research Hub
Dr Alan Magee describes his experience of returning to practice to support the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine trials at the Hampshire Research Hub, based at the Royal South Hants Hospital in Southampton
I retired from my position as a Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust in early 2020. But my retirement didn’t last long because the pandemic arrived just a few months later.
I wanted to help so I decided to volunteer through NHS Professionals, the NHS staff bank, I didn’t hear anything for a while then out of the blue I got a phone call from Professor Saul Faust, Clinical Director of the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) Wessex, to see if I’d be interested in being a Hub Doctor at the COVID-19 vaccine research hub, located at the Royal South Hants Hospital in Southampton. That was in late December 2020 and by January 2021 I was starting in my role.
I have been involved in research before, in my speciality, doing work in pulmonary hypertension and trials of Angiotensin Receptor blockers in Marfan syndrome amongst others. However these trials were much smaller scale because of the relative rarity of the conditions and the understandable difficulty in recruiting children.
I’ve really enjoyed meeting and talking to the participants, hearing their life stories and having that human connection.
The vaccine trials are very different. There are lots of participants and the scale of the research has been huge in comparison. The NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility (CRF) itself is very adaptable, used to running complex multi-centre studies in many areas and maintains a very high standard.
My role within the hub is very different from my previous job. I’ve been doing about 2-3 days a week as a Hub Doctor, consenting patients into the various vaccine trials, checking eligibility, taking bloods, assessing results and reporting any adverse events. It was great to be involved in COVID-19 vaccine research in the middle of an active health emergency affecting the entire population.
My Good Clinical Practice (GCP) training meant that I had a good grounding in research best practice – but I do have to keep up-to-date with the different trials and the protocol changes as more is learned about the pandemic.
It was great to be involved in COVID-19 vaccine research in the middle of an active health emergency affecting the entire population.
One of the most interesting aspects has been seeing the children and adolescents who have volunteered. The children themselves are amazing – in particular their willingness to have blood taken and to attend the visits. Balancing the risks and benefits of vaccinating children was an ethical challenge but did benefit the whole population.
One other very interesting group has been adults with significant co-morbidities such as those following bone marrow transplant or being treated for blood cancers who do not mount a sufficient immune response to vaccination. Their courage has been inspiring.
I’ve really enjoyed meeting and talking to the participants, hearing their life stories and having that human connection. I have also appreciated meeting and working alongside such a diverse group of doctors from different specialties. It’s been great to look at different perspectives and collaborate with each other.
I would recommend taking on a role in research like this to anyone close to retirement. It gives you an opportunity to help and engage in a less stressful way than pre-retirement, but it also supports vitally important research. I’ve really enjoyed my time at the hub.