'I can tell my grandchildren' - Norfolk's key role in new Covid vaccine
- Credit: NNUH
Scientists and volunteers in Norfolk have played a key role in the development of a highly effective new coronavirus vaccine.
More than 500 participants from within the NHS, Norwich Research Park and the local community have been taking part in trials for the Novavax jab.
On Thursday evening, it was revealed the vaccine had shown 89.3pc efficacy against Covid-19 during large-scale trials across the UK.
Norfolk's own trial, which is ongoing, is based at the Quadram Institute's Clinical Research Facility in Norwich, which is run by the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH).
In November, volunteers were administered a shot of either a genuine jab or a placebo, before receiving another around three weeks later.
The ensuing weeks have seen the participants take several blood and Covid tests, but they still do not know whether they received a real vaccine or not.
Andrew Stronach, who works in communications at the Quadram, considered it his duty to play a part in an historic effort.
"Back in October the NNUH said this trial was going to be happening and said staff could become participants," said the 51-year-old, who lives in Cringleford.
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"The pandemic is hard work - it is really tough on people. We are all doing the best we can.
"The thought of doing something to help in some way was my motivation. One day, when I have grandchildren, this is something I can tell them.
"I saw the news on Thursday about the efficacy and thought it was fantastic."
Also involved as a trial subject was Fred Warren, a 34-year-old research scientist at the Quadram.
Dr Warren was similarly keen to contribute to a project that could ultimately protect millions of people from the debilitating effects of Covid-19.
"It was really good for us because you are in the middle of a pandemic and you want to do something to help, but sometimes you feel a bit powerless," he said.
"Seeing the news last night was really exciting. Norwich is constantly improving as a research centre, so this is a really big boost for us and the Quadram.
"It's important as well to say how great the trial staff are. They are really professional and do a fantastic job."
Even before trial results were published, the UK had already ordered 60 million doses of the Novavax product.
Like the Pfizer, Oxford and Moderna vaccines, it will require approval from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency before being rolled out.
But crucially, the new jab has proved to be effective against the new variant of coronavirus originating in the UK.
According to preliminary analysis, the variant was found in more than half of the Covid cases recorded in the UK-wide trials, but the new jab was 85.6pc effective against it.
The vaccine was shown to be 95.6pc effective against the original strain during trials, which involved more than 15,000 participants aged 18 to 84.
Encouragingly, over-65s made up 27pc of those who took part. On Thursday, German authorities said the Oxford jab should not be used on older people due to a lack of data, although this has been disputed by its producer, AstraZeneca.
Hailing the NNUH's role in the trial success, Jenny Longmore, the hospital's director of research operations, called news on the vaccine's efficacy "fantastic".
She said: "The research team pulled out all the stops and are really proud to be involved this trial, which continues until November this year with routine follow-up appointments for those who have taken part.
"It is fantastic news for everyone involved in the study that the vaccine efficacy of this Phase Three trial is so high. We are extremely grateful to everyone who volunteered to take part in this extremely important research."
NNUH chief executive Sam Higginson, who was one of the 500 to take part in the trial, said: “This is great news and fantastic that our research team has been part of this.
"I had no hesitation in putting my name forward and it is great to hear that so many staff and colleagues from Norwich Research Park put themselves forward.”