The global COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect our lives in a significant way, with many challenges ahead of us. We’re committed to supporting our members – we have been focusing our efforts on representing and helping you during this uncertain time. Here, we provide you with a brief update on what we’ve been doing over the past few months to support you 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.
The BSI continues its record of thought leadership on the pandemic currently facing us, with the Immunology and COVID-19 Taskforce in particular, working hard to engage with policymakers and officials from across all four home nations of the UK. On 13 August we launched the Taskforce’s first briefing note for policymakers on ‘Long-term immunological health consequences of COVID-19’ which rapidly reviewed the current research in this area and laid out three key recommendations for research; these will be key to ensuring that such long-term health effects are not overly burdensome to the NHS at the time when we need it most.
The report was well received and we had notes from almost thirty policymakers from across the UK including Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP (Con, South West Surrey), Chair of the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee; and Jeane Freeman MSP (SNP, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley), the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport; as well as from senior officials in the UK Government including Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Advisor. We have also had eight parliamentary questions on the long-term effects of COVID-19 tabled across both Houses of Parliament, including on all three of the key research recommendations in our briefing note. You can find out more about our next policy report on ‘The ageing immune system and COVID-19’ in this issue of Immunology News.
We also continue our programme of briefing Members of Parliament and civil servants on aspects of COVID-19. Danny Altmann, a member of the BSI Taskforce, has briefed the Scottish Government’s Head of the Antibody Testing and UK Government Engagement Team, Stephen Metcalfe MP, former Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, as well as Jon Ashworth MP (Lab, Leicester South), the Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary on one occasion, and Sir Keir Starmer MP and the rest of the Shadow Cabinet on another, on various aspects of current research, including the length and durability of effective immunity and the progress so far towards an effective and efficacious vaccine. As ever, it remains important to ensure those operating in Government or those scrutinising and challenging it, have the latest information available to make their work more effective. 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 at the moment. Over the last few of months, spokespeople from the BSI have been quoted in many national and international news stories including BBC News, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, The Sun, The Guardian and New York Times.
We have developed three webinar series to share the latest Coronavirus developments, offer opportunities to develop your professional skills and connect you with the immunology community. Our ‘Connecting on Coronavirus’ series provides immunologists with a platform to keep informed with the latest COVID-19 research during the pandemic. It brings you expert speakers who discuss relevant and timely information on key topics such as B cells and antibodies, SARSCoV-2 and airway epithelium, antiviral responses in COVID-19, and much more. Our Careers Development series has now come to an end, but the recordings of all webinars are available via the members’ section of the BSI website. This series contains a range of insightful and entertaining webinars to build your skills, including sessions on how to prepare your paper for peer review, how to manage your wellbeing during the COVID-19 period and how to transition out of academia and into industry.
Finally, our Regional and Affinity Group webinars are run by and for our wonderful Regional and Affinity Group members. This series showcases a wide range of topics. So far, we’ve explored the impact of parasites on the human immune system, personalised interception of autoimmune diseases and the role of neutrophils in malaria, to name a few. 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. Our ‘Connecting on Coronavirus’ series is free for all to watch, and our Careers Development and Regional and Affinity Group series are exclusive for members.
We are proud to continue making new COVID-19 research accessible to everyone. All COVID-19 research published in our official journals has an accompanying summary for a general public audience, exploring why and how the research was conducted, what the results can tell us and what further work is needed. We have many excellent summaries to help the public understand the most recent COVID-19 immunology research from our journals Immunology and Clinical & Experimental Immunology. The lay summaries can be viewed on the BSI website here.
Addressing vaccine concerns
With the emergence of COVID-19, the crucial role that vaccines play in protecting our health has come into sharp focus. During the pandemic hope comes in the form of a vaccine and immunologists around the world are working to develop a safe and effective one that will protect us against infection by SARSCoV-2. It’s important to understand and address vaccine concerns that are prominent in public discussion and may lead to hesitancy to vaccination. To address common vaccine questions and strengthen public understanding around vaccines, we have produced a series of infographics, a blog and video to discuss the concerns in more detail. One prominent public concern is about what’s in vaccines and we’ve created an easy-to-digest infographic to explain the different ingredients found in vaccines. Alongside the infographic, we’ve produced a detailed blog, with the help of BSI member Dr Beth Holder. It’s crucial to explore the role of each vaccine ingredient to understand that, in the very small amounts used, they are safe and are necessary to ensure a vaccine’s high quality. By answering this common vaccine question, we hope to provide evidence-based information to help everyone make informed decisions about vaccines and their health.
Another topic high on the media and public agenda is how vaccines can generate long-term immunity and how an effective COVID-19 vaccine might work. Our new informative infographic explains how vaccines take advantage of the natural process of adaptive immunity and what this might mean for COVID-19 vaccine development. The infographic introduces the concept that an effective COVID-19 vaccine might stimulate B cells and specific antibodies or T cells or a combination of both. BSI member, Dayana Hristova, helped produce a video explaining that vaccines are the safest way to gain long-term immunity against a virus that your body has yet to encounter. These infographics are all free to download from the BSI website and we encourage you to share them with your networks to help improve understanding of vaccine ingredients and the role of long-term immunity in effective vaccines.
Find out more
- Download BSI ‘what’s in a vaccine’ infographic and read more in our blog, which discusses in detail the ingredients found in a vaccine here.
- Download the BSI ‘COVID-19, long-term immunity and vaccines’ infographic and learn more about long-term immunity to COVID-19 and vaccine development in our video 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.
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.