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COVID-19 study needs Greater Manchester participants to help researchers understand next phase of pandemic

Greater Manchester residents are being encouraged to help fight COVID-19 by taking part in one of the UK’s largest research studies of the virus.

Participants in Virus Watch will help researchers better understand how the virus spreads in the community. The results generated will be vital in informing government planning and the public health and NHS response to COVID-19 as the UK prepares for future management of the pandemic. 

Virus Watch has been funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Medical Research Council. 

The NIHR in Greater Manchester is urging people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds across our communities to register and take part. Some households, selected at random, will have received a postcard in the post with details of how to get involved in Virus Watch. Alternatively, anyone can sign-up online

Participants will complete regular online symptom surveys and have the option to download a movement tracking app to understand how activities outside of the house affect risk of infection. 

A total of 40,000 people are needed to take part in Virus Watch in the UK. A subset of 10,000 consenting people will also have blood tests to look for antibodies and will submit nose and throat swabs when they are ill. This will allow the study to assess how long antibodies provide protection against the virus for.

In order to generate Greater Manchester data for the study subset, local clinics are being held with NIHR health professionals at locations in Ashton-under-Lyne, Cheadle Hulme, and Rochdale. These are due to start on 21 September and take place on selected dates over seven weeks. People who have signed up to Virus Watch and agreed in principle to having blood tests will be invited to have a blood sample taken at a clinic near them, if they live within the postcode area. 

The overall study findings will help researchers answer questions including: 

  • If we catch COVID-19, for how long are we protected from catching it again?
  • When will COVID-19 peak again?
  • Who gets infected or is most susceptible to it?
  • How do the symptoms differ between adults, children and vulnerable groups?
  • Why do some people get mild illness or show no symptoms and some get seriously ill?
  • How does our immune system protect us and can this help us design effective vaccines?
  • Why are some ethnic minority groups more likely to end up in intensive care than the rest of the UK population?
  • How can we safely go about our lives and prepare for the possibility of future outbreaks?

Emma Oughton, Assistant Research Delivery Manager, NIHR Clinical Research Network Greater Manchester, said: “Virus Watch aims to identify how the virus spreads, and how to stop it and prevent further waves. To achieve this, we need help from people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds in Greater Manchester to take part. 

“We’re appealing to local people and their families to join the thousands of households already taking part in the study. Your involvement really can help us beat the virus.”

Lead author, Professor Andrew Hayward (UCL Epidemiology & Health Care) said: “Virus Watch is the world’s most comprehensive community study of COVID-19. This virus isn’t going away any time soon and, as lockdown is eased and we move towards what could be a very difficult winter, we need to learn as much we can to prepare for future waves. With the help of tens of thousands of participants across every region of England and Wales we will answer these questions together.”

Read more and register for the study online