New vaccine to be tested on BAME communities in Tower Hamlets

Nurse administers the first of two Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines.
Pic: Andrew Milligan

A new COVID-19 vaccine will be trialled in East London to examine its effectiveness among among people with underlying health issues and from BAME backgrounds.

The trials will be run by Barts Health NHS Trust and based in Bethnal Green, at the centre of one of most diverse communities in the capital and with a high incidence of chronic health conditions.

The vaccine is one being developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, part of Johnson & Johnson. The company say the vaccine could be made available to the UK by mid-2021 if proven safe and effective.

The trials are part of a worldwide study that will recruit up to 30,000 people, 6,000 from the UK across 17 National Institute for Health Research sites, to receive the two-dose regimen. Some of the volunteers were sourced from the more than 300,000 people who signed up to the NHS Vaccines Registry.

Barts Health is expecting to take up to 400 participants throughout the entire Greater London, but hopes to encourage East London’s diverse community to take part of the trials. The vaccine trials will be held at the Barts Health Vaccines Trials Centre which is located within the Bethnal Green library.

This is a second stage of vaccines that will be administered to participants. The first stage saw 1,000 people worldwide take part in the study. However, these people were all considered healthy adults that shared similar backgrounds.

Professor Patrick Kennedy, principal investigator for the study and honorary hepatologist consultant at Barts told a public meeting: “This is really important because this [second study] is healthy adults with or without comorbidities of varying age groups.”

“The broadening of this [second] study is to include people with comorbidities, people with stable, well controlled conditions. But this is just to see how the vaccine performs, possibly in in a group of patients at increased risk of progression to severe COVID-19.”

Recruitment will be held until March 2021, with the study expected to last for 12 months. Professor Patrick Kennedy will lead the study and have the help of medical school students and Trust volunteers.

Tower Hamlets is considered one of the most ethnically diverse places in London. As of the 2011 census, the borough’s population was made up of 55 percent BAME groups.

Pic by Tower Hamlets council

Kennedy said: “It was critical for us to ensure that we brought whatever clinical trials there were for the treatment of COVID-19 and be able to bring them to East London to our local communities.”

According to Kennedy: “This is a randomised, double blind, placebo-controlled phase three study that is looking at to the prevention of SARS and this is for all participants aged 18 years and older.”

Participants of the trials will come to the centre the first day and have either a placebo or vaccine administered to them. For about eight weeks, the participant will be required to give updates.

“Many of these are not actually physical visits, so they’re visits conducted by telephone… we limit the number of physical visits for a number of reasons, to reduce people moving around people unnecessarily coming to the library. But also, we’re very aware of the fact that people are busy with jobs with family life.”

By day 57, the second dose will then be administered, and participants will give updates until the end of the year study.

Vanessa Apea, consultant physician in genito-urinary and HIV Medicine, expressed during the public meeting the importance of testing the trials on people of different ethnicities, minorities, age and health groups to get a better understanding of how the vaccine can differ between individuals.

Apea said: “If you looked at those that have had COVID-19 and were admitted for it, 33 per cent of those people were from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic group. And to put this into context, there are 14 per cent of people in the UK from those groups.”

She said the average age for White people most affected by COVID-19 was 73-years-old, whereas BAME individuals averaged 14 years younger. Death rates were also 1.4 times more likely in Asian background and 1.3 times more likely in a Black background.

“I think what’s key here is that when looking at race and ethnicity, they are not biological constructs. They are social constructs. We need to understand the disparity, we need to really look at the context of which people are living, and understand their religious experiences, and how this affects their risk.”

If you would like to take part in the vaccine trials, email your full name and contact details to to register interest.

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