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Launching a study into COVID-19 immunity during lockdown

A Children of the 90s participant with senior fieldworker Claire

10 December 2020

How do you learn what level of immunity people develop in the months after a COVID-19 infection? With decades of detailed health data and young, engaged participants, Bristol’s Children of the 90s (CO90s) health study is ideally suited to studying the biology of COVID-19 immunity. Here senior fieldworker Claire Rollings describes the process of launching a new study to find out how Children of the 90s participants are convalescing after COVID-19.

Pictured: Senior fieldworker Claire (right) with a Children of the 90s participant

In September, we were tasked with setting up an urgent public health study at high speed – which has been challenging and rewarding! Our clinic and data teams have been working closely together to make it happen. Our motivation to start collecting data about COVID-19 from our amazing cohort of participants has been huge. We are really hopeful that this data will have a significant bearing on scientific knowledge about the ways in which the immune response behaves to inform public health strategy not only in the UK but also globally over the next year.

We began inviting participants to our immunity study (part of the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium, or UK-CIC) in mid-November. Using data from our participants’ COVID-19 questionnaire responses plus their antibody test results enabled us to invite those who had tested positive to our clinic for a series of assessments.

We are aiming to see 300 participants from two generations with a variety of COVID-19 experiences to allow us to compare the results. The team has rallied to answer phones, reply to emails and book the appointments in the run up to Christmas. All of this at a time when energy is flagging and tiers 1, 2, 3 and 4 chopping and changing!

Our first clinic day welcoming participants into our Bristol-based site was the ominous date of Friday 13th November 2020. Prior to this we conducted a staff pilot to allow the laboratories to test their processes, to test the participants’ flow through the clinic, the electronic consent and the data collection.

This helped inform us of any potential issues and then re-evaluate our standard operating procedures. It also ensured we were correctly implementing COVID-19 safety measures for the protection of our participants and our staff including fieldworkers, administrators, cleaners, porters, and anyone using the building.

When the first email invites were sent out, we were unsure of the response we would get, as it also coincided with the national lockdown measures being announced, just to add to the fun! As a research study with ‘urgent public health status’, our research could continue in spite of lockdown measures. And thankfully the response was positive, and we have welcomed over 100 participants through the door already. For some participants it is almost a decade since their last visit to a Children of the 90s clinic.

For this immunity study, participants are booked for a short 55 minute visit, carefully designed to avoid too many people being in the building together. It is certainly a different feel in clinic as we normally provide copious tea and coffee and chatter in the café area. Instead, we greet the participants at the door with a visor and a thermometer and guide them through into the clinic room as soon as feasible. Mastering the art of informed consent through muffled masks and steamed up spectacles has been interesting!

Taking their blood, urine, saliva samples and doing fitness tests has been ‘back-to-business’ for the clinic team in many ways. But managing the samples and participants’ movements in a COVID-secure way has been a new challenge.

Feedback from participants has been positive, reassuring us that we are getting the safety measures right. One commented: “I have recently attended my first clinic appointment for the new COVID-19 immunology study. The staff team were all so friendly, I was met with big smiles (under masks and visors) and everything was clearly explained. The environment felt safe and the tests were completed quickly”.

I think as a team we have developed an ability to smile with our eyes and forge forward within an ever-evolving COVID-19 world. The anxiety levels have been high individually and collectively for all this year, but the teamwork from everyone at Children of the 90s has been phenomenal and our participants continue to engage with us, which is incredibly heartening and motivating.

Despite the untold challenges that this past year has relentlessly provided, I think our resilience and ability to adapt as a study will be something to celebrate by the time Christmas arrives.

 Pictured below: Fieldworkers Jayne, Jessica and Juliet with Pilar on the reception.

Field workers Jayne, Jessica and Juliet with Pilar on the reception.

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