Data breach: Hospital shares email addresses of vaccine trial participants

Norfolk is on track to offer every adult their first vaccine by the end of July, predicts a Norwich

The vaccine trial organiser contacted patients by CC'ing them all onto the same email, sharing hundreds of confidential email addresses - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A hospital has apologised and opened an investigation following a breach of patient data.

The organiser of a vaccine trial at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) emailed an unknown number of patients using the CC field, which allowed their email addresses to be seen and shared.

The NNUH is participating in a trial of a Covid vaccine manufactured by the US pharmaceutical company Novavax.

Around 500 patients and staff from the hospital are involved in the trial, a randomised controlled trial where half of the participants receive two shots of the vaccine and the other half receive two shots of a placebo.

Due to their participation in the trial, some patients have not received an approved vaccine, a problem the email was intending to rectify.

A participant in the study, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "NNUH trials finally got around to asking participants if they wanted one, two or no Pfizer shots.

"The problem is that they sent the message to all participants in an open email – a major violation of GDPR rules. 

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"This exposed the email addresses of all of the participants in the study to all of the other participants. 

"They then recalled the message, claimed to have turned themselves in to the appropriate officials at NNUH and left all of the study participants (Novavax refugees) still paying the price for taking part in this study."

The trials have shown the vaccine to be 90pc effective.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. 

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. - Credit: NNUH

Yesterday, Novavax filed for its first authorisation for general use, anywhere in the world, applying to the UK authorities. Its chief executive said authorisation from the US' Food and Drug Administration would be sought later in the year.

NNUH chief executive Sam Higginson is one of those involved in the vaccine trial. 

A spokesperson for the NNUH said: “We take the protection of personal information extremely seriously and we sincerely apologise to the clinical trial participants affected.

"Following an administrative error, immediate action was taken to recall an email that included the email addresses of some Novavax vaccine trial participants. We have launched an internal investigation following this data breach.

"Our research team continues to work hard to support everyone involved in the Novavax vaccine trial at our hospital who wishes to receive an approved vaccine."

Are you involved in the Novavax trial? Contact joel.adams@archant.co.uk

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