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A huge collaborative effort

Photo of Susan Dhliwayo

Our research team are playing a critical role in supporting the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in delivering research into COVID-19 urgent public health issues. 

A big part of this research agenda is supporting vaccine studies to help secure a range of vaccines to tackle coronavirus. In order to make this possible, the NIHR have funded national training packages to train as many research staff as possible. 

Over the last six months, our researchers have been travelling to and from Oxford to support two trials, developed by Novavax and The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. These are trials of more than 800 participants, with staff working hard to get the robust results needed. 


In February, the Novavax vaccine became the first COVID-19 vaccine to show robust clinical efficacy (effectiveness) against the new predominant UK variant and also to the South African variant of COVID-19.

Between October and November, our Lead Research Nurse, Sarra Blackman contributed 103 hours to the Novavax study, working with NHS professionals from across the Thames Valley and South Midlands Clinical Research Network. This involved working mainly evening and weekend shifts, which required travel from Berkshire to Oxford, sometimes at short notice.

Sarra said: “Working on the vaccine trials has been an amazing opportunity. To contribute to research that is so important globally because of the pandemic has given me a strong sense of pride and hope.” 

One of the most surprising rewards from taking part in the trials has been the chance to work with colleagues who she would not normally meet. “These are all people that I now consider friends” she said, “We have leaned on each other when times have been tough and when we have been overwhelmed with the sheer volume of work. We have learned skills from each other and laughed together. 

“Most importantly, we have succeeded together, to develop treatments for this illness that has shaken our world.”    


We’ve also been involved in the Janssen trial, with 10 of our staff working at two GP practices in West Oxfordshire since November. Roles have included shift co-ordinators, lab technicians to analyse blood work, and vaccinating nurses. These nurses are separated into either unblinded or blinded control groups, with “blinded” nurses not knowing if they’re giving a vaccine or placebo.

Some of the staff working on this study have not been involved in these types of trials before. Our Research Nurse, Susan Dhliwayo, has given more hours to the study than anyone else. She said: “I have been enjoying working on the vaccine trials and feel honoured to have been part of the process in the innovation for such an essential cause. “ 

Katie Warner, our Head of Research and Development said: “I’m so proud of the huge collaborative effort across the region, which we hope will mark the start of a new era of closer partnership working. Thanks to the commitment, energy and determination of our research team to the vaccine trials and other projects, we’re now third in the country compared with similar Trusts for number of research opportunities we offer.” 

Find out more

Research and Development

To find out how you can get involved in existing and future research studies, either as staff or a participant, contact our Research and Development team.

Contact our Research and Development Team

COVID-19 Vaccine

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