The Coronavirus outbreak has affected our lives in countless ways. From our jobs and research to our wellbeing and the way we connect with our peers, the immunology community has had to rapidly adapt to this new world. The British Society for Immunology’s mission is to support our 4,200 members and advocate for immunology for the benefit of society. Here, we summarise the numerous actions we have taken to represent and help our members during this unprecedented time.
The BSI is working hard to ensure that the Government recognises that proper understanding of immunology is critical to the country’s response.
In addition to our work with the Academy of Medical Sciences, we’ve been active on many fronts in the policy sphere. In mid-March, we published an open letter to Government reflecting significant questions that the immunology community had over the strategy to tackle the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak at that time.
This letter made an important contribution to Government policy and we know that it raised awareness of immunologists’ concerns at the highest levels, with the Government subsequently putting much more emphasis on social distancing, particularly for at-risk groups.
We wrote to the Chief Medical Officers of all four UK nations to offer the services of the hundreds of BSI members who responded to our survey to volunteer their lab skills, resulting in a link up with the Lighthouse Labs. We also wrote to the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, to recommend our members’ immunological expertise in the formation of the scientific advice that is offered to Ministers.
Separately, the BSI wrote to all 650 MPs, offering them a briefing from an immunologist so that they could be better informed and to aid them in their scrutiny of the Government. Several MPs took us up on this offer and our members have helped with everything from replying to technical aspects of constituents’ correspondence to providing a briefing via teleconference to an opposition party’s Commons and Lords health teams.
We’ve further engaged with Parliamentary Select Committees, which work to hold the Government accountable in certain policy areas. After correspondence with the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology Chair, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Professor Danny Altmann gave oral evidence to the Committee on behalf of the BSI on the viability of easing lockdown measures, including immunity certificates and tracing applications, as part of their inquiry on UK science, research and technology capability and influence in global disease outbreaks.
More recently, Professor Altmann has also given evidence on behalf of the BSI to the House of Lords Science & Technology Committee on what we know about SARSCoV- 2 and its transmission as part of their ‘Science of COVID-19’ inquiry. In the future, we can look forward to an article on COVID-19 appearing in the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee’s Science in Parliament magazine.
Responding to journalists and making sure that the media and public are kept well informed is very important to us. BSI spokespeople have been active on many topics, regularly commenting on antibody tests, vaccine progress, effects of age on susceptibility to how to keep a healthy immune system to name just a few topics. We’ve targeted a diverse range of outlets including BBC Horizon, Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Sun, Financial Times, Channel 4 News and New Scientist. This is an area of our work that we feel makes a real difference to public debate on COVID-19 and is one that we’re certain to pursue in future.
Engaging directly with the public around the science of COVID-19 is another key area of focus for the BSI. We have curated a collection of public engagement resources on COVID-19 on our website, along with our own ‘Colour in Coronavirus’ to help inform children and adults alike on how the virus interacts with our immune system.
The expert hub
We created an information hub on our website to keep you up to date with developments during the Coronavirus outbreak, BSI activities as well as providing useful information and links to external resources. This also houses our highly popular ‘Connect on Coronavirus’ webinar series – you can view all the recordings of past webinars here.
The BSI is working hard to represent and support the immunology community during this time. We hope that you’ve found our activities so far useful and we welcome feedback on our activities and any other areas you feel we should focus on.