FI was fascinated from an early age by the natural world, and especially how living things work. For me, the interaction between organisms, between the host and the pathogen, is wonderful. I have always been interested in translation research. How can I influence the health of the people I am doing in the chair in public health?
That feeling has never been more important than ever. In a time of a pandemic, the spread of vaccines that can prevent disease is a public health intervention and so many lives will be beneficial.
Since April, I have been evaluating immune responses in clinical trials of the Oxford / AstraZeneca ChAdOx1-nCov vaccine. As an adjunct immunologist at the Jenner Institute, I previously worked in clinical trials of pathogenic outbreaks such as Ebola, Mers-CoV, and influenza. My job was to measure the responses of the antibodies caused by these vaccines.
So when the work to do immunological analysis against the Covid-19 vaccine, specifically the levels of antibodies, came, I had the necessary skills to get started on the ground. In fact, the task at hand in Covid-19 clinical trials would be much greater than what I or my colleagues had previously worked on. I am currently leading a laboratory team to study antibody responses to the vaccine in clinical trial volunteers. We are interested in the antibody response to our vaccine antigen – for ChAdOx1-nCov Sars-CoV-2 is a spike protein.
After one dose of the vaccine, we investigated the antibody response and after two doses, we saw how these were compared. We also compared antibody responses from different age groups. Now, we want to follow up on the antibody response for several months to find out if it can trigger an immune response that will last our vaccine.
My job is much more than just doing experiments in the lab. Planning, data analysis, logistics (such as storing thousands of samples), organizing laboratory consumables, and managing people are all part of the day’s work. While working on this vaccine, there has been a lot of pressure, including tight time trials in the lab, to make immunology data available to volunteers as soon as possible after taking blood samples.
I’ve done more work than ever before in 2020, and I hope to do more than I need to do again! Sometimes it becomes a frustrating workload – especially if you think you’ve accomplished a task and may be short of breath, but then it’s also another task, a bigger one, a moment later.
For me, the best way to move forward in situations like this is to get together as a team and work out how to achieve the ultimate goal using the skills of the people in the lab. There have been lows and lows in the last nine months, but they have been shared among colleagues, many of whom I would never have had the pleasure of working on if it weren’t for these rehearsals.
Have I ever wondered, “What if the vaccine doesn’t work?” Of course, these are the thoughts that will come to my mind when I should be asleep. However, I had confidence in the vaccine technology and team as they are constantly working towards a common goal. Fortunately, we have been rewarded with news that is effective in preventing ChAdOx1-nCoV Covid-19.
Hearing that, I immediately burst into tears. Calm tears, joy, hope and excitement for the future of this vaccine. I am very proud to be a part of this vaccine, and I hope it can be useful to people all over the world.