Working together to deliver COVID-19 vaccines studies
In this article, staff at Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust reflect on the role they played in support studies into COVID-19 vaccines.
Our research team are playing a critical role in supporting the National Institute for Health Research in delivering research into COVID-19 urgent public health issues. A big part of this research agenda is supporting vaccine studies to help secure a range of vaccines to help tackle coronavirus. In order to make this possible, the NIHR have funded national training packages to train as many research staff as possible.
Over the last six months, a team of Berkshire Healthcare staff have been travelling to and from Oxford to support two trials, developed by Novavax and The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. These are trials of more than 800 participants, with staff working robustly and vigorously to get the results through.
In February, the Novavax vaccine became the first COVID-19 vaccine to show robust clinical efficacy against the new predominant UK variant and also to the South African variant of COVID-19.
Between October and November, trust Lead Research Nurse Sarra Blackman (right) contributed 103 hours to the Novavax study, working with NHS professionals from across the Thames Valley and South Midlands Clinical Research Network. This involved working mainly evening and weekend shifts, which required travel from Berkshire to Oxford, sometimes at short notice.
Sarra said: “Working on the vaccine trials has been an amazing opportunity. To contribute to research that is so important globally because of the pandemic has given me a strong sense of pride and hope.”
One of the most surprising rewards from taking part in the trials has been the chance to work with colleagues who she would not normally meet. “These are all people that I now consider friends.
“We have leaned on each other when times have been tough and when we have been overwhelmed with the sheer volume of work. We have learned skills from each other and laughed together.
“Most importantly, we have succeeded together, to develop treatments for this illness that has shaken our world.”
A group of 10 Berkshire Healthcare staff have been working on the Janssen trial at two GP practices in West Oxfordshire since November. Roles have included shift co-ordinators, lab technicians, to analyse blood work, and vaccinating nurses. These nurses are separated into either unblinded or blinded control groups, with “blinded” nurses not knowing if they’re giving a vaccine or placebo.
Some of the staff working on study have not been involved in these types of trials before. Research Nurse, Susan Dhliwayo (left), has given more hours to the study than anyone else. She said: “I have been enjoying working on the vaccine trials and feel honoured to have been part of the process in the innovation for such an essential cause."
Katie Warner, Head of Research and Development at Berkshire Healthcare said: “I’m so proud of the huge collaborative effort across the region, which we hope will mark the start of a new era of closer partnership working. Thanks to the commitment, energy and determination of our research team to the vaccine trials and other projects, we’re now third in the country compared with similar Trusts for number of research opportunities we offer.”
To find out how you can get involved in existing and future research studies, either as staff or a participant, contact the trust’s Research and Development Team