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Case study: Teen shares his experience of taking part in a COVID-19 vaccine trial

Patient story: Robert

Taking part in a COVID-19 vaccine trial has led Robert, 19, from London, to have conversations with his peers about the importance of research.

“People are kind of surprised that I’m taking part”, Robert said. “Because of the whole pandemic and how locked down we are, people are surprised that I’m going to the hospital. It seems risky that I’m exposing myself.”

But keen to address any myths about research, Robert is happy to share his experience with others. “After a bit of conversation, they see that it’s a very safe environment with no more risk than, say, going to the shops. People might be surprised at first but they soon get on board with the idea.”

Robert is taking part in the COVAC1 trial, supported by the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) North West London. It’s testing a potential new vaccine for the COVID-19 virus.

People often consider how safe trials are before signing up to take part, particularly in the middle of a global pandemic. But Robert has felt very safe taking part in COVAC1. “Everyone has to wear a mask inside the facility and the staff have their PPE, so I definitely feel safe”, he said. “The risks aren’t big enough to make me not want to take part.

“It’s already been tested to make sure it’s OK. By the time it gets to the trial, the risk of anything happening is quite low. The risk is mitigated by the research that is being done.”

This is the first trial Robert has taken part in, and he’s keen to encourage others to think about doing the same. “You’re contributing to the pandemic, in this case. But also you’re contributing to scientific research generally”, he said. “Even if we weren’t in a pandemic, taking part in research is furthering our knowledge.”

"I wanted to help in some way..."

The pandemic has put clinical research at the forefront of people’s minds. Signing up to take part has been a great way for many to feel useful. “I wanted to help in some way”, said Robert. “Because I don’t have any scientific training, it’s the only way that I can help. So it’s just doing my part.”

The trial involves regular visits to Hammersmith Hospital, part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. “I had my screening to see if I was eligible and healthy enough to take part. After they accepted me I went back and they gave me the vaccine”, Robert said.

“Since then I’ve been going back every week for check-ups to make sure I’m feeling fine. Eventually it will be every two weeks. Then the gaps between each visit will become bigger and bigger. I think the whole thing will take about a year.”

People taking part in research often feel more empowered to look after their own health, something Robert can relate to. “I was already making sure I was taking the necessary precautions not to get the virus — social distancing and wearing a mask. But taking part in the trial definitely reinforced those ideas in my mind. So it has made me think about my health”, he said.

"After this one I will definitely look to seek out other research trials..."

By sharing his experience with his peers, Robert is hopeful others will consider getting involved. “I think having more students and younger people doing vaccine trials would be a good thing”, he said.

“After this one I will definitely look to seek out other research trials, just to help out and be part of it. I think they’re interesting and kind of fun to take part in.”