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“Ultimately we all benefit from research” East of England research volunteer champions COVID vaccine trial

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Surajit was one of 500 people who volunteered to take part in a research trial at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) to test the effectiveness of a new COVID-19 vaccine. 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, 57, who is originally from Lancashire, and his wife, Heather, decided to semi-retire to Holt in 2019. Surajit 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 a new COVID-19 vaccine trial that was being launched at NNUH. Having contacted the research team to find out more, Surajit 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 actually looked after by research staff from the James Paget University Hospital. In a collaborative first for the county, the Novavax trial at NNUH saw clinical research nurses from JPUH and the NIHR local support team joining the trust’s own research staff in running the study.

Neither staff nor participants knew whether they were being given the actual vaccine or a placebo (a harmless fluid which has no active ingredients). However, participants could find this out if they were invited to have one of the approved vaccines rolled out across the country.

Surajit said: “Apart from a little soreness when I had the two injections, I felt fine. It was a very safe, relaxed environment and the staff were absolutely lovely. I think the only thing I missed was a cup of coffee, but that obviously wasn’t possible!”

Prior to the MHRA approval of the Novavax vaccine in February this year, Surajit found out that he had indeed received the vaccine. He said at the time: “Ultimately, we all benefit from research, so I’m glad I’ve 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.”

Since 2022's developments, Surajit has also gone a step further in helping to make research happen, having been appointed as Public Contributor for the NIHR's Clinical Research Network (CRN) in the East of England. Public Contributors provide crucial guidance and experience to ensure NIHR organisations maintain and improve their focus in keeping patient and public perspectives at the heart of everything they do. 

Dr Helen Macdonald, Chief Operating Officer for the CRN East of England, highlighted the importance of research to find vaccines for COVID-19: “We’re so grateful to Surajit and others who volunteer to take part in research, particularly such important vaccine trials, and we are thrilled that he will now be working with our team as a Public Contributor. It’s only with the help of participants that we have been able to prove the safety and effectiveness of the COVID vaccines, and with the invaluable help of our Public Contributors we can achieve our goal of ensuring those taking part have the best experience possible."

If you would like to help researchers find treatments for many conditions, including COVID-19, find out more on the NIHR’s website, www.bepartofresearch.uk.