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The hidden research army supporting the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine trials

Sarah Taylor

An interview with Sarah Taylor, Research Administrator, from South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust.

Continued research to find multiple safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 will help to protect us all more quickly, support the NHS and save lives. To deliver vaccine trials in Dorset, Hampshire, south Wiltshire and the Isle of Wight, the Wessex COVID-19 Vaccine Hub launched a workforce campaign to recruit a team of health and care professionals.

Almost 500 people came forward and among them was Sarah Taylor, a Research Administrator from South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS). Sarah has been seconded to the Hub to support the trials.

“Volunteering to help with the COVID-19 vaccine trials seemed like a good fit for me,” says Sarah. “I’ve been working for the NHS for over 20 years now and I’ve always loved science and had a keen interest in research.”

Her current role at SCAS involves signposting colleagues to research opportunities, emailing staff surveys and facilitating research within the organisation.

“I’m excited by research,” enthuses Sarah. “I wanted to get involved with the COVID-19 trials because it felt like a chance to be involved inside the research rather than on the perimeter.”

It’s boosted my confidence and it really doesn’t matter how small your contribution is, you’re helping to make a difference.

To date, Sarah has supported trials by the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca, Novavax and Janssen (ENSEMBLE II). She has taken on a range of different tasks with the Wessex Hub, including data collection and booking appointments for potential research participants.

“I’ve been phoning people who are interested in taking part in the trials and booking appointments for them to start the screening process. Doing it all from home has meant that I could chat more freely to people, answer any questions and help to put their minds at ease.

“I’ve also spent some time at University Hospital Southampton, checking participant trial packs to make sure that all the correct boxes have been ticked and the relevant information has been filled in. Without this, we wouldn’t have been able to submit the data so it was an essential job. If anything was missing, I’d get in touch with the participant to get the information so we could complete the pack and submit the data.”

Initially, Sarah was apprehensive about being involved and sceptical of the impact she could have, but she has since discovered how essential her role is to the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine trials.

“I would tell anyone else who isn’t actively involved in research to just go for it. It’s boosted my confidence and it really doesn’t matter how small your contribution is, you’re helping to make a difference. Just thinking about it makes me really emotional.”

Sarah feels that her involvement with the trials and joining the Hub has also had a positive impact on what she can now bring to her role at SCAS.

“Research within SCAS is fairly new and it’s a real learning curve. But we have so much data in the ambulance service – there is so much value in paramedic research because their primary focus is to improve the patient experience. The challenge is to balance research alongside their day-to-day roles.

“I hope that my involvement in the COVID-19 trials has helped to open up doors for us. People know who I am now and what I do. I’ve met so many new people - I feel like I can ask more questions and I have access to a wider network of research experts. It’s also given me a much better understanding of the nuances and the guiding principles of research.”

Sarah intends to continue assisting with the trials for as long as possible and is keen to get involved in future trials, helping however she can.

In Wessex, COVID-19 vaccine trials will continue throughout 2021, helping researchers to answer important questions about which vaccines work best for different groups of people.

Throughout this time, individuals like Sarah will remain an integral part of the Hub team, working across organisations to support vaccine trials.

Find out more about the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine research trials across Wessex.

If you’d like to get involved, please complete our online expression of interest form or contact the Hub team on