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“It felt like mission impossible” – blog by Claire Levermore

‘Was I free for a quick chat?’  The yes prompted a phone call from Nick McNally and I was asked a question for which there was really only one answer. “Would I help set up the COVID-19 national vaccine study at UCLH?” Well, of course the answer was yes!   The timeframe was unprecedented, with the expectation from Oxford that we would set up and be ready to start approximately two weeks later. 

What an opportunity though as this is such a crucial study, and the development of a vaccine is the best long term solution we have of dealing with COVID-19 and getting back to some normality.  So, what was needed?   The space at UCLH to screen and then vaccinate hundreds of volunteers, dozens of staff to carry out the trial, a large quantity of kit and consumables and an EPIC build so we could run the trial on our computer systems.  So, plenty to do…

As the primary focus for the volunteers to take part was to be healthcare workers we made the quick decision we should run the study from two hubs to make it more accessible to our staff.  The use of the hospital space had been ever changing since the start of the pandemic to best meet the needs of patients and staff with a constant focus on ensuring a safe working environment.  I needed two large areas for several weeks to carry out the study and thanks to help from numerous people in the strategy directorate and outpatients two ideal spaces were identified within a day.   One challenge solved…

The staff needed to carry out the study alongside the research staff from the Clinical Research Facilitator included doctors, nurses, receptionists and administrators.   Again, with support from across the Trust enough staff were identified and trained up within days.   

The Procurement and EPIC teams who had been rushed off their feet for months got involved immediately to get us to the starting point.   

I love the camaraderie at UCLH and it’s one of the reasons I’ve worked here for such a long time.  Over the last month the support has been exceptional.   As with all complicated project nothing has been plain sailing and every day has thrown a new curve ball and yet somehow by the end of the day a solution has been found.   Find two new fridges in less than 3 hours as the ones we had borrowed were not giving accurate readings…done!  Get a company to open its closed factory to send us kit we needed in 12 hours…done!

I wanted to use this blog as a way of thanking the numerous people that helped the study get to the starting line and I hope the message reads loud and clear.  

We don’t know if this trial will be the one that produces the vaccine the world so desperately needs, but whatever happens, UCLH should be proud of the part it is playing in partnership with UCL.  

It has been incredible working with the amazing CRF team led by Professor Vincenzo Libri and the JRO in this endeavour.  And if the resolve and determination of everyone involved is anything to go by, we’re certainly in with a shot.  

Claire Levermore is Head of Operations, SUMMIT study, and is project manager for the national Covid-19 vaccine trial at UCLH