In 2021, we launched a brand new website about research undertaken in the UK on vaccines for COVID-19. Funded by UK Research and Innovation via the National Core Studies Immunity Programme, the UK Covid Vaccine Research Hub aims to champion and celebrate the immense contribution of UK researchers to the development and understanding of vaccines for COVID-19, and act as a hub for information and resources about this vital work.
The pace of scientific enquiry has been rapidly increasing for decades, but this acceleration underwent a sudden uptick in March 2020 and has been on a sharp upward trend ever since. Those very first reports of a new coronavirus that was able to infect humans and trigger severe illness marked the beginning of an urgent race to collaborate, innovate, publish and communicate faster and smarter than ever before.
The resourcefulness, diligence and energy displayed by the scientific community since then has been nothing short of extraordinary. New insights about the vaccines are emerging almost daily and their role in tackling the pandemic, helping us to understand precisely how immunity is generated, how long protection lasts, and how to harness the benefits of vaccination safely and effectively. A mind-boggling array of experts are involved, including immunologists, epidemiologists, data scientists, bioinformaticians, statisticians and many others. All of this expertise and knowledge will combine to help us refine and deepen our understanding of the vaccines and how best to use them to protect populations across the globe.
Channelling evidence to those that need it
The pace at which this is all happening presents a challenge in terms of getting new information to those that need it, and doing this responsibly, clearly and promptly. The quick-fire communications habits of the modern world have undeniably played a positive role, with more opportunities for scientists to explain their processes, insights and reservations to the public with little mediation or delay. But this world of instantaneous feedback has a thorny flip-side, and everything from innocent misplaced assumption through to calculated disinformation has been able to sweep online channels more or less unfettered.
Early in 2021, the team behind UKRI’s National Core Studies Immunity programme got in touch with the British Society for Immunology with an idea for a new website that would bring together resources, news, publications and other vital information aimed at three distinct audiences – researchers, policymakers and the general public – each of which was under pressure to make informed decisions in response to the pandemic.
“The science was moving forward at such a rate, and we wanted to make sure people had access to the latest, evidence-based information and resources,” says Professor Paul Moss, Professor of Haematology at the University of Birmingham and lead for the National Core Studies Immunity Programme. “The obvious solution was to create an online resource that was freely accessible, and would bring all the latest information together in one place.”
A hub to inform, inspire and celebrate
In response, the BSI team drew up a plan for the UK Covid Vaccine Research Hub, with the objective of keeping pace with the steady stream of enquiry and innovation from UK research teams. They took on the responsibility of designing, building and managing the site, reporting new findings swiftly and objectively, and collating resources that would equip people to make decisions for themselves based on the latest science.
“There is now more appetite than ever before for information about how vaccines work, how they are developed and tested, and about the risks and benefits for individuals. We were excited at the prospect of creating a portal that would meet this demand. At the same time, it was a prime opportunity to promote awareness and support for the work being undertaken by UK research teams, whose explorations are vital to global efforts to bring us out of the pandemic.” says Dr Doug Brown, Chief Executive of the British Society for Immunology.
In this sense, the site sets out to champion and celebrate the immense contribution of UK researchers to the development and understanding of vaccines for COVID-19, while also acting as a central hub for information and resources about this vital work.
The hub aims to provide a fast track to the information scientists need, such as details of upcoming funding calls and awards, advice on how to talk about their work to the public, information about collaborations, new approaches, latest developments in a range of fields, and much more.
Resources tailored to need
In order to capture this diverse and fascinating research output, while meeting the needs of the three audiences, the new site is organised into clearly defined sections. A set of pages for the public host an array of accessible, engaging resources on a wide range of topics, including how the immune system responds to COVID-19, how vaccines prevent illness, and information for specific groups such as younger people, pregnant people and people with reduced immunity. These resources are regularly updated as new insights emerge.
“Many of the resources for the public have been created or contributed to by researchers, and we know many scientists have recently been compelled to get involved in public engagement for the first time. The pandemic has really brought home the importance of effective science communication, as well as the imperative to listen to people’s questions and concerns, and respond sensitively, clearly and compellingly. We are always keen to hear from researchers interested in engaging with the public and there are so many ways this can be done,” said Dr Brown. “We’re also eager to hear any ideas of topics that need addressing, new and inventive ways of presenting evidence, or if there are good resources already out there that we could add to the website.”
The hub is also designed to provide researchers themselves with tools and information to help them undertake their work. Scientists are under more pressure than ever, and there is little time available for researching funding streams or exploring new collaborations. The hub aims to provide a fast track to the information scientists need, such as details of upcoming funding calls and awards, advice on how to talk about their work to the public, information about collaborations, new approaches, latest developments in a range of fields, and much more. The team hopes that this pool of information will expand fast as researchers feed back to let them know what they need most to support them effectively.
And lastly, the site’s section for policymakers showcases reports, briefings and other resources from a range of UK organisations, demonstrating the scale of the contribution of the UK’s researchers to global efforts to end the pandemic, and outlining the policy developments needed to ensure they can continue to play this vital role. This section also hosts resources for MPs to help them respond to questions about the vaccines from their constituents.
Alongside this, the site hosts two directories. One keeps track of all the UK research publications (including preprints) relating to vaccines for COVID-19, while the other gives details of clinical trials currently under way in the UK, including how these are funded, what they aim to achieve and how members of the public can become involved.
And the site’s news pages translate complex research into digestible updates, bringing new insights to light as they emerge.
“Our hope is that the site will continue to evolve over time to become the most useful and comprehensive tool possible for all three audiences,” said Dr Brown. “We know the BSI community is a source of almost limitless knowledge, expertise and inspiration, so we would encourage anyone to come forward with resources and ideas for content that might make a valuable addition to the hub. If you have a publication out that is relevant to COVID-19 vaccines, a study under way or a development that we should report on our news pages, please do get in touch.”
Find out more
Let us know about a study, research initiative, publication, resource or funding opportunity at www.covidvaccineresearch.org/contact-us.