FAt an early age, I was fascinated by the natural world and especially how living things work. To me, the interaction between organisms, like that between a host and a pathogen, is fascinating. I have always been interested in translational research – how can what I do on the bench affect the health of the public?
This feeling has never been more relevant than now. During a pandemic, the roll-out of vaccines that can prevent disease is a public health intervention that will benefit so many lives.
Since April, I have been working on assessing immune responses in clinical trials with Oxford / AstraZeneca ChAdOx1-nCov vaccine. In my role as a postdoctoral immunologist at the Jenner Institute, I had previously worked with clinical trials for outbreaks of pathogens such as Ebola, Mers-CoV and influenza. My job was to measure antibody responses elicited by these vaccines.
So when the task of performing immunology assays, especially antibody levels, for the Covid-19 vaccine came along, I had the skills needed to get started. Granted, the task of Covid-19 clinical trials would be much greater than what I or any of my colleagues had ever worked on before. I am currently leading the laboratory team and looking at antibody responses to the vaccine in clinical trial volunteers. We are interested in the level of antibody response to our vaccine antigen – for ChAdOx1-nCov which is the Sars-CoV-2 nail protein.
We have examined the antibody response after one dose of vaccine and after two doses seen how these are compared. We also compared antibody responses in different age groups. Now we want to follow the antibody response for several months to determine if our vaccine can elicit a long-lasting immune response.
My job involves much more than performing experiments in the lab. Planning, data analysis, logistics (like storing thousands of samples), organizing both laboratory consumables and managing people are all in one day’s work. By working with this vaccine, there has been a lot of pressure, including short processing times to perform analyzes in the laboratory to make immunology data available as soon as possible after blood samples have been taken from volunteers.
I have worked harder in 2020 than ever before, and hopefully more than I will ever need again! Sometimes the workload becomes frustrating – especially when you think you have completed a task and can catch your breath, but then there is another, often larger, task a moment later.
For me, the best way forward in such situations is to pull together as a team and find out how to achieve the ultimate goal with the help of the individuals’ competence sets in the lab. There have been many ups and downs over the past nine months, but these have been shared between employees, many of whom I would never have had the pleasure of working with if it were not for these trials.
Did I ever worry, “What if the vaccine doesn’t work?” Of course, these are the thoughts that would pop into my head when I should have slept. But I had confidence in both the vaccine technology and the team, which works tirelessly towards a common goal. Thankfully, we were rewarded with the news that ChAdOx1-nCoV is effective in preventing Covid-19.
When I heard this, I quickly broke down in tears. Tears of relief, joy, hope and excitement for the future of this vaccine. I’m so proud to be a part of this vaccine and I look forward to seeing how it can benefit people all over the world.