Government begins large scale coronavirus immunity study

Image of people standing behind a large umbrella protecting from coronavirus

Up to 20,000 people are being asked to take part in a new government-funded coronavirus immunity study to further track the extent of the coronavirus spread across England, Scotland and Wales.

The research will measure blood antibodies to help determine what proportion of the population has already had the infection, the duration of immunity after being infected, and why the virus affects people differently.

Led by UK Biobank and supported by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), the study, which was developed with the Wellcome Trust, also draws on the world-leading scientific expertise of the University of Oxford. It forms part of Pillar 4 of the Government’s COVID-19 testing strategy to conduct UK-wide surveillance testing to learn more about the spread of the virus.

In total, 20,000 thousand people will take part. The study participants will be chosen from existing, consented UK Biobank volunteers, as well as their adult children and grandchildren. This is the first time UK Biobank has opened up a research study to the next generation of participants, which will help to ensure that all regions, ages and socio-economic groups are represented .

Each month, participants will be asked to provide a sample of blood using a finger‐prick device, and to complete a short questionnaire about any relevant symptoms they may have experienced. The de-identified samples will be returned to UK Biobank for processing before being sent for validated antibody testing at the University of Oxford.

This information will help inform future Government strategy on the ongoing response to the virus, including lockdown and social distancing measures. The first results from initial participants are expected to be available in early June.

Established by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, UK Biobank has been following the health of 500,000 UK participants over the last 10 years through detailed health records, genetic and lifestyle data. As a result, it is uniquely well-placed to investigate whether the immune response to coronavirus differs between people with different genetic backgrounds.

This is the third coronavirus surveillance testing survey to be announced. The UK Biobank research will complement data generated by the ONS population study. Both studies will take blood samples to provide data on how many people have antibodies to the virus.

The Imperial College/Ipsos Mori testing programme is using swabs to understand the level of active infection in participants. It is also undertaking user acceptance testing of antibody tests designed for home use.

Public Health England is also analysing blood samples from people across a wide range of ages, locations and professions, to help detect past and current rates of infection as well as any changes in the virus.


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