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Hampshire resident supports search for COVID-19 vaccines

A Hampshire resident is supporting efforts to find multiple safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19, by taking part in research.

Andreas, who works in the IT industry, decided to volunteer for the clinical trial of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson (Janssen), in November last year.

Andreas, who is married and has lived in Winchester for over 20 years, first heard about the clinical trial when he was contacted via the NHS COVID-19 Vaccine Research Registry, a service developed by the UK Government’s Vaccine Taskforce and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to help recruit volunteers into trials.

“Early on there was a call for people to volunteer for clinical trials as everyone was rushing to develop a COVID vaccine,” explains Andreas. “I thought about what we can all do collectively and individually to make a difference to the situation we’re in.”

“No one has ever experienced anything like this before and no one ever wants to, again. Things needed to happen quickly, and people needed to support where they could, and I felt that this was something I could do.”

For Andreas, taking part in the trial involved attending several appointments at the Hampshire Research Hub, a new vaccine research facility within the Royal South Hants Hospital in Southampton, set up in response to the pandemic.

“So far, I've had three visits, as well as a couple of phone interviews. It's been very easy. After the initial email to say the trial was running in Southampton, I had an assessment to see if I was a suitable candidate. There were the usual questions around your health and medical history and once they had confirmed I was suitable, I got my first vaccination.”

“Following that, I got a pack of information to take away with me. One of the main things to do is to keep reporting, letting the research team know how you’re getting on and whether you’ve developed any symptoms. I do this twice a week and it takes around two minutes.”

As a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, participants were selected to receive either two doses of the trial vaccine or a placebo.

A process called blinding meant that neither the participants nor the research team knew what each participant had received, helping to ensure the results of the trial were not influenced by existing expectations.

It does take some of your time, but nothing substantial and it's an opportunity, I think, to make a difference.

In April 2021, participants were then unblinded to let them know whether they had received a placebo or the active trial vaccine.

“On my third visit,” explains Andreas. “I found out that I had received a saline solution rather than the actual vaccine. I was then offered a dose of the trial vaccine and the choice of whether to stay on the trial. I decided to continue and keep reporting twice a week via the study app.”

Andreas describes his experience of taking part in research as positive and would consider taking part in a research study again in the future.

“I would definitely recommend taking part in research. For me, it's been a very positive experience. It does take some of your time, but nothing substantial and it's an opportunity, I think, to make a difference.

“The team has been excellent. I've felt well supported by the people I've met with for my visits and the phone calls. It's been a good experience.”

The NIHR-supported Janssen (ENSEMBLE II) clinical trial has recruited over 5,900 participants from 17 UK research sites.

Alongside Andreas, almost 340 volunteers from the Wessex region took part in the trial, helping researchers in their search for multiple safe and effective vaccines to tackle the pandemic.

The UK public can continue to support the national effort to speed up vaccine research and receive more information about volunteering for future vaccine studies by visiting www.nhs.uk/researchcontact.