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News > AOS Alumnae News > AOS Alumna Leads UK Covid-19 Vaccine Trial

AOS Alumna Leads UK Covid-19 Vaccine Trial

Andrea Collins (1990-97) works at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) as Senior Clinical Lecturer and is an Honorary Consultant in Respiratory Infection at the Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Trust. She is leading the work in Liverpool for the Phase 3 Oxford COVID-19 Vaccine Study.

Andrea explained about the trial and what it aims to achieve:

“This double blind randomised controlled study was the first Phase 3 COVID vaccine (ChADOx1 ncov-19) study in begin in the UK. The pace of the study has been incredible. I normally work in pneumonia vaccine research and things do not move so fast, but with a pandemic every organisation works together in the same direction, for the same purpose. We were selected as a UK site in May, so I stopped working as a frontline respiratory Consultant in Aintree Hospital in Liverpool and began recruiting other frontline health and social care workers into this study. Liverpool alone will conduct over 7000 visits for this study.

We vaccinated the final participant to enter the study in November 2020 and are delighted to be the top National recruiting site to the healthy volunteer groups age 18- 70+, recruiting nearly 900 participants. Well over 10,000 participants were recruited across the UK, Brazil and South Africa for this trial. Initial data on immunity looks very favorable, we are expecting the vaccine safety and efficacy data any day now. If the trial demonstrates this vaccine is safe and effective, we can start vaccinating the UK population immediately after MHRA approvals, since millions of doses have already been produced for the UK.”

It has been an honour to be able to make a vital contribution to this pivotal clinical trial; we are hopeful that this vaccine will have a massive impact by saving millions of lives not only in the UK, but also globally, after all a pandemic is an international issue and so an affordable vaccine for the whole world is paramount. I am delighted that COVID vaccinations can hopefully start in December 2020 in the UK and that we have an assured vaccine supply chain in the UK.”

Andrea answered further questions related to her work and to her time at AOS.

So how does a vaccine trial actually work?

“Potential participants go through a screening process to ensure, amongst other things that they do not fall into a ‘vulnerable group’, and they are tested to see if they have previously been infected with COVID-19. If eligible and suitable, they are then vaccinated, although they do not know if they have been vaccinated with the COVID-19 candidate or the meningitis (placebo) vaccine. We were inundated by volunteers keen to make their contribution to helping the pandemic effort by helping with various aspects of the study from Ambassadors (often medical, dental students or actors) marshalling and ensuring that participants remained socially distanced at appointments to Medical Doctors (consultants and junior doctors) all working for free.

On average it usually takes at least 10 years for a new medicine to complete the journey from initial discovery through to clinical trials and marketplace so the news of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine in terms of both efficacy and safety is staggering. As researchers our work continues as we look for vaccines that ideally end COVID transmission and spread rather than just preventing severe COVID infection. There are around 195 pre-clinical and clinical COVID vaccines in development worldwide with 19 undergoing human trials, with around 8 more vaccine trials to be run in the UK. We plan to begin our next COVID vaccine trial in Liverpool in January 2021.”

 

The study builds on Andrea’s clinical group’s success in recruiting volunteers to numerous studies mostly focused on respiratory infection predominately pneumonia vaccines and pneumococcal challenge work. The Foundation Office was keen to understand the path that took her Andrea to this trial.

What drew you to respiratory medicine?

“I was inspired by medical consultants in Exeter as a junior doctor to become a medical doctor rather than a surgeon as I had intended whilst at medical school. Respiratory appealed as I had a background in ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and anesthetics as a junior doctor so was interested in ‘lungs’ and also enjoyed the mixture of bread and butter work as was a rarer conditions, I also like the fact that it is still ‘interventional’ and hands on although not strictly surgical. Most people imagine malaria or malnutrition is the biggest killer of children aged under 5 but actually it is pneumonia. This is tragic and part of what fascinates me is that in wealthy, developed countries such as the UK, this same infection is lethal for older adults. Improving the pneumonia vaccines available will help save young and old, rich and poor.”

After AOS, Andrea qualified in Medicine at Bristol University, and moved to the Mersey Deanery in 2007 to pursue clinical practice and began a PhD aimed at improving pneumococcal vaccines in 2012. She achieved her PhD in 2017 (after 2 lots of maternity leave) and has managed to balance her career with family life as mum of two. She has done this by challenging the norm and seeking new and more flexible ways of working. Andrea traces her confidence to challenge, her strive for the best she can be and her want to be able ‘to do it all’ back to her time at AOS.

What are your recollections of your school days?

 “My fondest memories of AOS are of the opportunities it offered us. My year group was made up of girls who excelled across all aspects of the school life: academia, sport, drama, music as well as just importantly being good people. There was no ridicule in being academically strong and it was positively encouraged that we devote time to other areas school life. The wonderful support from so many members of staff helped to develop great confidence in us all.

I loved sport, particularly Lacrosse, Netball and Tennis, and was fortunate to be part of very strong teams guided by Mrs Walker and Mrs Fox. Playing sport for AOS propelled me to playing Lacrosse for England B and I enjoyed playing Netball for the County. Rounders was great fun (remember the milk bottle bat?) and I have abiding memories of us coming into school early on summer mornings so we could play Tennis before lessons began.

In the classroom academic excellence was possible through the combination of hard work and inspiring teachers. Mrs Ridgeway taught Latin and her ghost stories were utterly engaging. I loved her subject and it has genuinely stood me in good stead for working in Medicine; and, of course, for all the science teachers! I remain in touch with many old friends from afar, most notably Zoe Skellern, Zoe Brownsdon and Chloe Wright – I wish I could keep up with many more. Important to note that I come from a family where I was the first to get a GCSE, let alone A-level or degree or PhD, the School helped shape my future path and I for one have much to be thankful of and grateful for.”

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