FFrom an early age, I was fascinated by the natural world and, in particular, how living things work. For me, the interaction between organisms, such as that between a host and a pathogen, is fascinating. I’ve always been interested in translational research: how can what I’m doing at the bank have an impact on the health of the general public?
This sentiment has never been more relevant than now. In times of pandemic, the deployment 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 the Oxford / AstraZeneca ChAdOx1-nCov Vaccine clinical trials. In my role as a postdoctoral immunologist at the Jenner InstituteHe had previously worked on clinical trials for outbreak pathogens such as Ebola, Mers-CoV, and influenza. My job was to measure the antibody responses induced by these vaccines.
So when the task of performing immunological tests, specifically antibody levels, for the Covid-19 vaccine came up, I had the skills to get started. Of course, the task of Covid-19 clinical trials would be much bigger than anything that I or any of my colleagues have ever worked on before. Currently, I lead the laboratory team that analyzes antibody responses to the vaccine in volunteers from clinical trials. We are interested in the level of antibody response to the antigen of our vaccine, for ChAdOx1-nCov, which is the Sars-CoV-2 spike protein.
We have investigated the antibody response after one dose of vaccine, and after two doses we have seen how they compare. We also compare the 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 lasting immune response.
My job involves much more than conducting experiments in the laboratory. Planning, data analysis, logistics (such as storing thousands of samples), organizing lab supplies, and managing people are all part of a day’s work. Working on this vaccine, there has been a lot of pressure, including tight response times for laboratory testing so that immunological data is available as soon as possible after blood samples are taken from volunteers.
I have worked harder than ever in 2020, and hopefully more than I will ever have to! Sometimes the workload gets frustrating, especially when you think you’ve completed a task and may have a little respite, but then there’s another, often bigger task a moment later.
For me, the best way to go in such situations is to come together as a team and figure out how to achieve the end goal using the skills of people in the lab. There have been many ups and downs in the last nine months, but these have been shared among co-workers, many of whom would never have had the pleasure of working if it weren’t for these trials.
Have I ever worried, “What if the vaccine doesn’t work?” Of course, these are the kinds of thoughts that would come to my head when I should have been asleep. However, he had confidence in both the vaccine technology and the team, which works tirelessly towards a common goal. Fortunately, we were rewarded with the news that ChAdOx1-nCoV is effective in preventing Covid-19.
Hearing this, I immediately burst into tears. Tears of relief, joy, hope and excitement for the future of this vaccine. I am very proud to be a part of this vaccine and I look forward to seeing how it could benefit people around the world.
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