FFrom an early age, I was fascinated by the natural world, and especially by how living things work. The interaction between organisms, such as the interaction between the host and the pathogen, is fascinating to me. I’ve always been interested in translational research – how can what I do on the bench have an impact on the health of the general public?
This sentiment has never been more relevant than it is now. At a time of pandemic, the introduction of vaccines that can prevent disease is a public health intervention that will benefit many lives.
Since April, I have been working on the evaluation of immune responses in clinical trials of Oxford / AstraZeneca ChAdOx1-nCov vaccines. As a postdoctoral immunologist at the Jenner Institute, I have previously worked in clinical trials for outbreaks of pathogens such as Ebola, Mers-CoV and influenza. My work involved measuring the antibody responses elicited by these vaccines.
So when the task of performing immunological analyzes, specifically antibody levels, for the Covid-19 vaccine arose, I had the necessary skills to get up and running. The task of covering Covid-19 clinical trials would be much greater than anything I or any of my colleagues have ever worked on before. I currently lead a laboratory team working on antibody responses to the vaccine in volunteers in clinical trials. We are interested in the level of antibody response to our vaccine antigen – for ChAdOx1-nCov, which is a top Sars-CoV-2 protein.
We examined the antibody response after one dose of vaccine and after two doses we found out how these substances were compared. We also compared antibody responses in different age groups. We now want to monitor the antibody response for several months to see if our vaccine can elicit a long-term immune response.
My work involves much more than experimenting in the lab. Planning, data analysis, logistics (for example, storing thousands of samples), organizing both laboratory consumables and managing people are all part of the day’s work. During the work on this vaccine, many pressures were exerted, including short laboratory testing times, to make immunological data available as soon as possible after blood samples were taken from volunteers.
I worked harder in 2020 than ever before and hopefully more than I will ever have to do again! Sometimes the workload is frustrating – especially when you think you’ve completed a task and can take a break, but a moment later there’s another, often bigger task.
For me, the best way forward in such situations is to pull for one team and use the skills of individuals in the laboratory to find out how to achieve the ultimate goal. There have been many ups and downs in the last nine months, but these have been shared among co-workers, many of whom I would never have had the pleasure of working without these trials.
I was sometimes worried, “What if the vaccine doesn’t work?” Of course, these are the thoughts that came to my mind when I was going to sleep. However, I had confidence in vaccine technology and in the team working tirelessly towards a common goal. Fortunately, we were rewarded with the news that ChAdOx1-nCoV is effective in preventing Covid-19.
When I heard that, I immediately cried. Tears of relief, joy, hope and excitement for the future of this vaccine. I’m so proud to be part of this vaccine, and I’m looking forward to how it could benefit people around the world.