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Connecting on Coronavirus

In this article, we provide you with a brief update on what we’ve been doing over the past few months to support our members and to feed into public discussion around COVID-19. We also invite you to discover our Connect on Coronavirus hub which features a range of resources to keep you informed on the latest developments and to support you in your career.


Policy focus

The BSI’s policy work on COVID-19 has continued at pace. In February 2021, the BSI Immunology and COVID-19 Taskforce launched a new report, ‘Immunity and COVID-19’, which has been successful in creating opportunities and making impact for our policy work. Following the report, Lord Patel (Crossbench), Chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, raised the BSI’s key recommendation that long-term, robust immune monitoring of vaccinated individuals is needed to determine which immune markers most reliably serve as correlates of protection, figure out how often booster vaccinations might be needed and inform the development of second generation COVID-19 vaccines.

Lord Patel also asked the Lords Health Minister, Lord Bethell of Romford (Con), to meet with the BSI to which he agreed. Lord Bethell, who serves as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Innovation at the Department for Health and Social Care, leads on the department’s policies regarding COVID-19 treatment and vaccines, COVID’s long-term health impacts, as well as the life sciences and research more broadly. He met with the BSI’s President, Professor Arne Akbar, and Chief Executive, Dr Doug Brown, and we are following up several streams of work with him to make the case for the research that we know is needed. You can find out more about our policy report on ‘Immunity and COVID-19’ here.

The months since the last edition of Immunology News have seen the regulatory approval and successful rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the UK, and understanding that many people would have questions regarding how they had been developed, how effective they were, and why social distancing rules would remain after vaccination; we sent all MPs a list of likely FAQs from their constituents with answers written by our Immunology and COVID-19 Taskforce. This was a big success with a lot of positive feedback from MPs and their staff who said they have proved invaluable in engaging with their constituents on the vaccines (several have reproduced the FAQs on their websites) and opened up channels of communication which will be useful going forward.

Finally, we have worked hard to make sure that the voice of immunologists is heard clearly in the media. Ensuring that journalists can speak directly with immunologists to put the latest COVID-19 findings into context is one of our key roles. In recent months, spokespeople from the BSI have been quoted in many national and international news stories including BBC News, Daily Mail, The Financial Times, The Sun, The Guardian and The Washington Post.


Webinars

In 2020 we developed three webinar series to share the latest Coronavirus developments, develop your professional skills and connect you with the immunology community. This year we continue to expand our webinar offering in line with our mission to support our members, both in their career development and engaging with the public, but also going further in our work to help inform healthcare workers around COVID-19 vaccination.

Our new ‘COVID-19 vaccine conversations’ series is aimed at BSI members and other researchers who wish to increase their skills and confidence to be positive ambassadors for COVID-19 vaccination. These webinars provide the tools needed to approach conversations about vaccines in a constructive way and generate productive interactions using expert immunology knowledge. In the first session, Sheena Cruickshank and Matt Morgan focused on effective ways of engaging with the public. The second session, on empowering our members to discover their path to effective public engagement, was delivered by a panel of speakers. Viki Male, Zania Stamataki, Mohammad Alhadj Ali and Danny Altmann shared their diverse experiences of engaging with the public and the range of impactful activities they have been carrying out. We also delivered interactive webinars
developed for healthcare workers.

'The immunology of COVID-19 vaccines’ series aims to increase healthcare workers’ confidence in talking to the public about COVID-19 vaccines. In the first session, Emma Chambers and Brian Ferguson discussed their own experiences of engaging with the public and how to listen to and address concerns. Donald Palmer and Dammy Pinheiro ran the second session which was designed for healthcare workers from ethnic minority communities to provide a supportive forum to ask any questions around COVID-19 vaccination.

Following the success of our 2020 series, we launched a new series to highlight and promote alternative career paths for immunologists. ‘Careers in immunology’ offers insights into different routes you can take using the foundations and transferable skills learnt studying immunology. The series will cover a range of career pathways including science policy, research funding and scientific publishing.

Finally, our Regional and Affinity Group webinars continue to showcase a wide range of topics and the recordings of our ‘Connecting on Coronavirus’ series are all available to watch. Take a look at the events section on our website for upcoming sessions and head to the BSI events homepage for all our recordings from previous webinars.

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. The BSI coronavirus initiatives are supported by The Lorna and Yuti Chernajovsky Biomedical Research Foundation. Our thanks also go to our following Gold Corporate Members who are supporting our coronavirus work: 10X Genomics, Fluidigm, Miltenyi Biotec and NanoString.


Collaborative Covid Immunology: A UK-CIC Conference

The UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium (UK-CIC) is an unprecedented research initiative bringing together 20 UK centres for immunology research in a coordinated effort to answer key questions around the immune system’s response to COVID-19. Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and supported by the British Society for Immunology, it began in Summer 2020, and it aims to deliver meaningful public health benefit within 12 months to increase our ability to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday 28 April and Thursday 29 April 2021, UK-CIC is running a two day virtual scientific conference to offer BSI members, consortium collaborators and the wider immunology community a unique opportunity to gather virtually. 'Collaborative Covid Immunology' will allow immunologists to interact, exchange ideas, and hear from some of the world class researchers working to understand the relationship between the immune system and SARS-CoV-2, as part of UKCIC. The programme is available online, and includes speaker sessions on primary immunity, immunopathology, viral evolution and vaccinology, alongside opportunities to participate in focused discussions through the online conference platform.

The BSI exists to promote and support excellence in immunological research and clinical practice. Immunologists have been at the forefront of research efforts into COVID-19 and we couldn't be prouder of how our community has stepped up to this challenge. By working with UK-CIC, we aim to support UK immunology as a whole to collaborate at a national level to answer the big outstanding questions around how the immune system interacts with SARS-CoV- 2, with a view to improving diagnosis and treatment as well as increasing our understanding of vaccines for COVID-19. Through supporting this inclusive approach across the immunology community, we will aim for a lasting positive legacy, creating a blueprint that could be exploited for future national collaborative efforts within immunology.

We would like to encourage BSI members to join the UK-CIC virtual conference to catch up on the latest COVID-19 immunology research!

Find out more

  • For more information about the UK-CIC conference and to register: www.uk-cic.org/event
  • Follow @UKCICstudy on Twitter to stay updated and join the conversation using #UKCICconference
  • To learn more about the initiative, head to the UK-CIC website: www.uk-cic.org
  • If you would like to keep up to date with the latest research and progress from UK-CIC, you can sign up to the UK-CIC e-newsletter here