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Memory of friend drives writer to take part in COVID-19 vaccine trial

Memory of friend drives writer to take part in COVID-19 vaccine trial

Francis Beckett was thinking of his lost friend when he took part in the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine study.

Francis, a writer and journalist who wrote a biography of Clement Attlee titled Labour’s Great Reformer, lost his friend Mike Pentelow in April to the virus. Francis explained: “Mike was 75 when he died. He was somebody who was full of ideas, retired but still moving from project to project. I didn’t know anybody who was less ready to hang up his boots than Mike. So he was in my mind a bit when I went to take part in the trial.”

Francis signed up to the NHS COVID-19 Vaccine Research Registry in August, after a planned holiday fell through. In his words, he saw it as a “good thing to do”. He heard from the research team at the Royal Free Hospital in October, when a phone call was followed up by a detailed letter.

Francis felt the information given to him allowed him to make an informed choice about whether to take part in the study. He said: “I thought it was nice to get a phone call. It made me feel that I wanted to take part that bit more, because they had taken the time to contact me in that way.”

He was also reassured about the safety of the study because it was taking place at an NHS hospital. “I knew that plenty of people had the vaccine before me and I knew that any study done under the auspices of the NHS was likely to be safe,” he said.

He made an appointment to take part in the study on October 20, when he travelled to the hospital, based in Hampstead, north London, from his home in nearby Finchley.

“I thought I was running a bit late, but the staff were really good, really careful. All the time I was with them – and I spent two and a half hours with them – I was moved promptly through the process, without being rushed.

“It gave me great insight into a process I wouldn’t usually have any knowledge of. Since the trial I have had no side effects.

“Obviously anyone thinking of taking part in vaccine studies will weigh up if it something that they want to do, but I always felt safe and cared for. I’m 75 and I know that people younger than me have died of this virus, so I was happy to be able to take part.”

The Novavax phase 3 trial is a randomised, placebo-controlled, observer-blinded trial during which half the volunteers will be given two injections of the vaccine candidate, 21 days apart, while the remaining receive a placebo.

The Novavax trial is the second phase 3 trial to commence in the UK, following AstraZeneca phase 3 trials at University of Oxford. Participants for the phase 3 trial will be drawn from the NHS COVID-19 Vaccine Research Registry: www.nhs.uk/researchcontact

Picture credit: Lance Wardle