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Case study: “The process of being in the study was eye-opening and lovely” — COVID-19 research volunteer

Patient story: Tina

Deciding to put herself forward to take part in a COVID-19 vaccine trial was an easy decision to make for Tina, 66, from Richmond in London. Like a lot of volunteers, she could see that finding successful vaccines would be the key to easing the restrictions of the pandemic.

And Tina has a special reason for hoping those restrictions are eased sooner rather than later.

“Both our two daughters are in Sydney, Australia”, she said. “And we want to go to our eldest daughter’s wedding in October.”

"I thought we would be a good couple to take part in the trial because my husband is in his 70s and I’m in my 60s and have an ethnic background."

Tina and her family will have to wait and see how potential additional waves of COVID-19 will impact travel restrictions for that. But the wedding isn’t the only reason Tina, along with her husband Peter, signed-up to the trial at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

“I thought we would be a good couple to take part in the trial because my husband is in his 70s and I’m in my 60s and have an ethnic background. So I emailed Chelsea and Westminster Hospital to see if they wanted candidates and they said ‘yes, please’, Tina recalls.

Researchers have been keen to encourage ethnic minorities to volunteer in trials to ensure accurate representation of whole populations, which will ultimately lead to findings that can be applied to people from all backgrounds.

The trial, supported locally by the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) North West London, is an international trial developed by Novavax, a US-based company specialising in vaccine development.

We now know that the Novavax trial has produced an effective vaccine against COVID-19, which is 89.3% effective.

Tina first found out about the trial last November. “My husband and I have a WhatsApp group on our road. A neighbour of ours, who is a doctor, made us aware of it.

“I felt it was a good thing to do. Both of us are healthy, touch wood, and we’d like to do our bit.”

"All the staff were absolutely first class. They looked after us very well."

The trial hasn’t been a big time commitment for Tina. And the time it has taken has been a positive experience. “There were two appointments in November, three weeks apart. The first one there was quite a lot of form filling in terms of signing up our agreements. And we met the leader of the study — Dr Marta Boffito — who was absolutely brilliant”, Tina said.

“All the staff were absolutely first class. They looked after us very well. The first appointment lasted two hours but the time just sped by.

“They gave us an injection of the vaccine or a placebo. And neither my husband nor I knew which one we had been given. Then three weeks later we had another injection.

“We’ve been in touch every two or three months. And in between we have an IT system that we can use to log any symptoms if we have any.

“We were OK throughout the whole process though. We later found out, when invited to get our vaccines, that I had been given the real thing and my husband received the placebo.”

"It was efficient, carefully thought through and beautifully managed."

Tina’s experience has made her a strong advocate for research. “Go for it”, she said. “The process of being in the study was eye-opening and lovely. It was efficient, carefully thought through and beautifully managed.”