Tag: COVID19

Consulting and involving the public in the first human COVID-19 human challenge study

How do you engage members of the public with medical research? Dr Emma Smith, HIC-Vac Network Manager, outlines how consulting the public was crucial during the world’s first COVID-19 human challenge study.


It is important that health and social care research aims to improve the overall well-being of the population, from advancing treatments for patients to helping us live healthier lives. People are at the heart of medical research and so engaging and involving them is an integral part of the research process and one that is mandated by most funders.

When we set up the world’s first COVID-19 human challenge study, acceptability of research to participants and society more broadly was particularly relevant because of the study’s ethically complex nature.

With volunteer participants being deliberately exposed to coronavirus (COVID-19) and the associated risk (albeit very small) of serious illness or death, the public’s perspectives were an important element of assessing if the study was acceptable and ethical (and was stated by the WHO1  as one of the key criteria for the ethical acceptability of COVID-19 human challenge). (more…)

An intense, scientifically incredible journey – our response to COVID-19

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Dr Natsuko Imai reflects on the experience of supporting the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team who provide key epidemiological insights to help inform the response to the pandemic.


Despite the introduction of “plan B”, I’m sure many of you will agree with me that, the run-up to Christmas this year still feels very different compared to 2020 when non-essential shops were closed, and we could only meet within our households or support bubbles. The swift introduction of measures and the fact we even have a vaccination programme to accelerate in response to the Omicron variant helps to keep me cautiously optimistic.

My colleagues in the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis and I have been working on COVID-19 since January 2020. This was when the virus was still called “novel coronavirus 2019” and only a handful of cases had been reported outside of mainland China. Since our early assessment of the transmissibility and true size of the epidemic in Wuhan City, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has spread to every corner of the world, changing the way we live in ways we could never have imagined.

Before the pandemic, most of my work as the liaison between the Centre and the World Health Organization was co-ordinating analytical support for outbreaks, typically in low- and middle-income countries. Since 2018, I have worked with colleagues on Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, doing rapid real-time analysis to understand – “how bad is the outbreak? How many cases can we expect in the next 3-4 weeks? How many vaccines need to be deployed?”.

This year, I have worked on events closer to home, supporting the Centre’s Imperial College COVID-19 response team who provide key epidemiological insights to help inform the response to COVID-19 both in the UK and abroad. With requests for analysis coming in almost daily in the early days, it has been an intense, but scientifically incredible journey. I am especially thankful for the generosity everyone has shown under all kinds of pressures. (more…)

Standing up for the facts: COVID-19 vaccination, fertility and pregnancy

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Dr Viki Male explains how she took matters into her own hands in response to the mixed messaging around COVID-19 vaccination advice and pregnancy.


In 2003, the world was on the brink of a SARS-1 pandemic. As a Year 12 student at the time, I followed developments closely. Although the outbreak eventually died out, my interest in infectious diseases did not. Surely, the big one was coming. And I would be ready for it.

But by the time the big one came, my research has taken me in a different direction. At university, I had become passionately interested in a family of immune cells, called NK cells, that control viral infection. But these cells have another role that captured my imagination: they help the placenta to implant during pregnancy, and my lab is working out how. In March 2020, as immunologists around the world raced to make a vaccine, I shut my lab and went home to spend the next 12 weeks home-schooling my children. I would sit this one out. What use is a reproductive immunologist in a pandemic, anyway?

Some use, it turned out. In December 2020, as the vaccine rollout began, rumours started to circulate that antibodies raised by COVID-19 vaccination would target a placental protein, called Syncytin-1, causing infertility and miscarriages. There was no basis to this claim and if I, a reproductive immunologist, wouldn’t stand up and explain why, then what was the point of me? So I began engaging with the public, first on social media and then in print and broadcast. Here’s what they taught me… (more…)

We need to give everyone, everywhere, the precious gift of health

Professor Faith Osier

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Professor Faith Osier shares her vision for health equity, from tackling vaccine inequity to empowering the next generation of scientists globally.


Almost a year ago to the day, my partner and I woke up our three young children in the middle of the night, readied them for the airport, hurriedly scrambled together the last of our belongings and embarked on a new adventure. We were moving from Heidelberg, a picture-perfect city that often made me feel like I was walking into a tranquil postcard. This had been home for four years and we kept our mixed feelings to ourselves as we ventured into the unknown, London. I was taking up a new position as the Executive Director of IAVI (formerly International AIDS Vaccine Initiative), at Imperial College London. We navigated the intricacies of relocating during lockdown, settled the children into school or rather “joyous home-learning” as was the case at the time, and I began to unpack my new job.

The mission of IAVI resonates strongly within me: “translating science into affordable, globally accessible public health solutions”. The opportunity to turn years of scientific endeavour into interventions that could transform the lives of the most vulnerable on our planet still springs me out of bed every day.  I have worked for over 25 years amongst the rural poor in Kilifi, Kenya, studied immune responses to malaria antigens in samples from similar study participants across Africa and appreciated first-hand the impact of ill-health on productivity, livelihoods and hope. (more…)

COVID and lung health: patient experience and what comes next?

The pandemic has been a huge challenge for people with lung disease – Dr Nick Hopkinson outlines what needs to change to provide them with the required support.


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a double impact on people with lung disease – both the impact of the condition itself as well as measures to avoid it on individuals and the impact on access to healthcare. COVID-19 is a respiratory infection, with people with COPD and severe asthma among those who are the most vulnerable. Many people with these conditions have spent a year shielding to avoid it.

Data from patient surveys by the Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation Partnership early in the pandemic found high levels of anxiety, with four key themes emerging from survey responses:

  • Individuals’ vulnerability to COVID-19,
  • Worrying what the experience of contracting COVID-19 would be like,
  • Uncertainty about the future,
  • The inadequacy of government response.

Many patients reported that their care had been disrupted, with reduced support available and face to face appointments replaced by remote options. (more…)

Masked: uncovering an unseen issue

For Imperial’s Sustainability Week, medical student Urvi highlights the environmental impact of abandoned face masks.


This pandemic has unexpectedly impacted the entire world in more ways than one. Despite a whole year having passed in what feels like the blink of an eye, so many historic moments have occurred over the past year, ranging from huge political changes to unrest and activism. It’s given us a lot to reflect on and I know that I personally have realised how there is so much we can do to strive to make this world a better place.

Other than grocery shopping, leaving my house for a walk is unfortunately the only kind of outing I’ve had these days. It dawned upon me how wrongly accustomed I had become to seeing masks and gloves littered and trodden into the pavement and grass near where I lived. I don’t remember there being so much litter in my neighbourhood before. I couldn’t help but think that if this is the case in our cities and towns, imagine how many masks and gloves would be littering our beaches and rivers, let alone our oceans…

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From Virology Master’s student to COVID-19 testing team leader

Recent graduate Samuel Badru is part of the lab team analysing samples for Imperial’s in-house Covid-19 testing scheme  – here he shares the steps to processing a successful test.


I would have never guessed that five months into studying a Master’s in Molecular Biology and Pathology of Viruses, the world would be stopped in its track on account of a virus. Lockdown descended on the nation two weeks into my project, which for me meant more bioinformatics from home and no more laboratory work. Little did I know that I would return to St Mary’s Campus’ laboratories to assist in the effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic!

I joined the College’s in-house SARS-Cov-2 testing team in October 2020 – the day after my results day (which went well!). There are a number of steps to the testing workflow that definitely seemed overwhelming at first, but after more than two months in it is all pretty much second nature. (more…)

This Christmas is the time to be patient, not to become one

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

As vaccines bring hope, Professor Helen Ward reflects on the emotions felt and lessons learned in a year confronting COVID-19.


What a strange year. For me, it has been full of contradictions. From one moment to the next I can feel sadness, frustration, anger but also pride and satisfaction. And guilt.

Sadness at the loss of life and the chronic ill-health that COVID-19 has brought, and for the loss of livelihoods and bleak futures for even more people. Frustration at the response of political leaders when vital decisions have been delayed, and anger that the pandemic has resulted in worsening social inequalities. Pride at my small part in the response, as an advocate for public health action when needed, a researcher co-leading one of the largest epidemiological studies (REACT), and an educator delivering a rapid online course to share the science of the COVID-19 response with over 100,000 learners. But also guilt that I have a secure and well-paid job that I can do safely from home, and that I have found research this year the most stimulating and satisfying of my career. Sometimes that enjoyment seems wrong.

My research career has focused on infectious disease epidemiology, particularly the control of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI), alongside teaching public and global health. I look back now and see how much of my career has been training for this pandemic challenge, and has taught me lessons that are very relevant for COVID-19.  From my HIV and STI research and clinical work, I learned about the complexities of controlling these infections. Understanding these “social” diseases requires a range of scientific approaches from basic immunology through mathematical modelling to anthropology. (more…)

COVID-19 vaccine diaries: part two, safety first

Justine is a participant in Imperial’s COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial – here she discusses how the trial is progressing. 


“Am I immune?” “Could I be immune?”

These are questions that have been unavoidably circling in my head ever since I received an experimental coronavirus vaccine as part of a clinical trial led by Imperial College London. 

Every time I exercise, take public transport, do my weekly food shop, socialise with those close to me, I’ve been trying to quash this invisible shield that part of my brain believes might be there, shrugging off any potential encounters with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

I didn’t enter this trial so that I’d get a free pass to behave irresponsibly in the midst of a pandemic, which is frighteningly rearing its ugly head again in my home country. I always knew that immunity was never a certainty, having never been tested in human beings before. I was more confident that it wasn’t a dangerous thing for me to do, and certain that it was a good thing to do. 

And by participating, I have certainly helped to prove both of these latter points. I’ve had two shots of the vaccine, which works by instructing my cells to make fragments of the coronavirus, thereby prompting my immune system to react and, hopefully, keep a protective memory of the threat. I’ve had no side effects at all; not even a sore arm. The devil on my shoulder sort of wished for even a little redness where the needle went in, that I could wear proudly as a mark of my contribution to research.  (more…)

How are people with respiratory conditions impacted by measures to reduce risk of COVID-19?

Dr Keir Philip discusses how people with long term respiratory conditions have been impacted by measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 and whether online singing groups could help.

As the global COVID-19 pandemic draws on, effects are being felt by everyone, not just those who have been infected with the virus. From schools to offices, restaurants to gyms, many aspects of ‘normal’ have been closed, stopped, or undergone major adaptations. These societal and healthcare disruptions will affect people differently, with certain groups of people, such as those with respiratory conditions, potentially more vulnerable.

Over the last few months I have been working with Dr Nicholas Hopkinson (Respiratory Consultant, NHLI Academic, and Medical Director of the British Lung Foundation(BLF)), Dr Bradley Lonergan (Internal Medicine Trainee) in collaboration with the Asthma UK-BLF partnership, to try to understand how people with long term respiratory conditions have been impacted by measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

Our research published today in BMJ Open explores the findings of a large UK wide survey conducted at the height of the first wave. We found that measures to reduce risk of COVID-19, such as social distancing and changes to healthcare provision, were having profound impacts on people with long term respiratory conditions. These included cancellations of appointments, investigations, and vital aspects of their care such as pulmonary rehabilitation. (more…)