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Case study: “Ultimately we all benefit from research” - Eastern research volunteer champions COVID vaccine trial

Eastern research volunteer champions COVID vaccine trial: “Ultimately we all benefit from research.”

Surajit was one of 500 people who recently volunteered to take part in a research trial at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) to test the safety and effectiveness of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine candidate, NVX-CoV2373, which recently demonstrated final efficacy of 96.4% against mild, moderate and severe disease caused by the original COVID-19 strain in a pivotal Phase 3 trial in the United Kingdom (UK). He is now raising awareness of the importance of vaccine research and what it is like to take part in it.

After holidaying in Norfolk for many years, Surajit, who is originally from Lancashire, and his wife, Heather, decided to semi-retire to Holt in 2019. He had hoped to find a part time job putting his professional experience in banking and the police to use while enjoying the quiet country life.

However, when the pandemic hit UK shores, Surajit’s work plans had to go on hold. He became increasingly aware of the pressure being placed on NHS staff and decided he wanted to help them instead. He said:

“Everybody wants to try and do their bit, don’t they? Because I have type 2 diabetes and my background is Indian, I’m in a slightly higher risk category, so I couldn’t get too close to the frontline, but I really wanted to do something.”

Surajit saw an advert asking for volunteers to join the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial that was being launched at NNUH. Having contacted the research team to find out more, He decided this was his chance to do something to help, and he signed up to take part.

Surajit was invited for his first injection appointment at NNUH where he was looked after by research staff from the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH). In a collaborative first for the county, the Novavax trial at NNUH saw clinical research nurses from JPUH and the National Institute for Health Research’s (NIHR) local support team joining the trust’s own research staff in running the study.

Neither staff nor participants know whether they are being given the actual vaccine or a placebo (a harmless fluid which has no active ingredients). However, participants who have not yet been invited to have one of the approved vaccines currently being rolled out across the country will very soon be offered the opportunity to participate in a ‘crossover’ study in which they will receive the opposite (placebo or vaccine) of what they received originally. This study will ensure that all who volunteered to participate will receive the active vaccine.

Surajit has now found out that he received both doses of the Novavax vaccine, which is currently awaiting regulatory approval: “I feel really lucky that I had the real vaccine. Apart from a little soreness when I had the two injections, I feel fine. It was a very safe, relaxed environment and the staff were absolutely lovely.”

“Ultimately, we all benefit from research, so I’m glad taken part. Hopefully it will benefit mankind, and if the Novavax vaccine is approved for use it would be nice to know that I contributed.”

Dr Helen Macdonald, Chief Operating Officer for the NIHR’s Clinical Research Network in the Eastern region, highlighted the importance of research to find safe and effective vaccines to prevent COVID-19:

“We’re so grateful to Surajit and others who volunteer to take part in research, particularly such important vaccine trials. It’s only with their help, and that of our country’s extremely proficient research community, that we have been able to prove the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines we already have and, hopefully, will do the same for the latest ones in development.”

If you would like to help researchers test the latest vaccines being developed for COVID-19, find out more on the NIHR’s website at www.bepartofresearch.uk.