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First COVID-19 vaccine trial in Northern Ireland finds new vaccine to be highly effective

First COVID-19 vaccine trial in Northern Ireland finds new vaccine to be highly effective

People in Northern Ireland have played a key role in the development of a new COVID-19 vaccine, Novavax, as part of a UK-wide trial.

The new vaccine has been shown to be 89.3% effective in a large-scale UK trial which is the largest double-blind, placebo-controlled COVID-19 vaccine trial to be undertaken in the UK so far. 

Nearly 500 participants were recruited from Northern Ireland for the trial which was led by researchers Professor Danny McAuley, Professor Judy Bradley and Dr Johnny Stewart from Queen’s University Belfast and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. 

The researchers helped to bring a large group of GPs from General Practice, nurses from the Northern Ireland Clinical Research Facility and Northern Ireland Clinical Research Network, as well as a large team of coordinators together to deliver this trial in the Northern Ireland Clinical Research Facility at Belfast City Hospital. 

The Belfast site was one of a number across the UK to host the trial, to investigate the safety, efficacy and immunogenicity of NVX-CoV2373 – a stable, prefusion protein antigen derived from the genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus spike (S) protein and adjuvanted with Novavax’s proprietary Matrix M™. 

A number of Health and Social Care and academic organisations and individuals worked on and supported the trial, including the Health and Social Care Research & Development Division based at the Public Health Agency; the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust; the NI Clinical Research Facility; the NI Clinical Research Network; the NI Clinical Trials Unit; and the NI Cancer Trials Network and Queen’s University Belfast. The study was also supported by medical and nursing staff from across Northern Ireland, including Queen’s medical and nursing students and Ulster University physiotherapy students, as well as community GPs and Belfast COVID Centre staff.

Professor Danny McAuley, Principal Investigator on the study and researcher from the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine within the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s University, and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, said: “Vaccination against the coronavirus remains one of the key tools we have to bring the pandemic under control. The contribution of volunteers in Northern Ireland has been really important in progressing the Novavax programme and having a range of vaccines available over the next months to ensure all of our population is covered is critically important.” 

Thanking the researchers and volunteers who took part in the trials, he added: “Many thanks to all who have supported this including the clinical trials teams in primary and secondary care who expertly delivered this trial.” 

Professor Stuart Elborn, Faculty Pro-Vice Chancellor for Medicine, Health and Life Sciences at Queen’s University, said: “Undertaking carefully conducted trials to make sure we have safe and effective vaccines is a critical part of controlling and adapting to this pandemic. This study is a further key milestone in the roadmap to restoring the health and wellbeing of society. Many thanks to all who have supported this including the clinical trials teams in primary and secondary care who expertly delivered this trial.” 

Professor Judy Bradley, Director of the Northern Ireland Clinical Research Facility (NICRF) and researcher from the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine within the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s University, said: “The NICRF, which is a joint facility with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (BHSCT), was delighted to host the Novavax trial in the fight against COVID. I would like to recognise the huge support and agility across the whole NI research infrastructure as well as many departments within BHSCT and University students who worked tirelessly to ensure we were able to offer this trial to nearly 500 participants in NI.” 

Dr Johnny Stewart, COVID-19 Clinical Research Fellow at Queen’s University, said: “We are delighted to see the results of high efficacy of the Novavax Vaccine against COVID-19, and particularly efficacy against the new variant. I would like to thank all the volunteers from across NI. I'm particularly proud of the role Primary Care in NI has played in the trial. We hope the infrastructure and expertise that have been developed will lead to exciting future collaborative research studies.'' 

Dr Janice Bailie, Assistant Director of HSC R&D Division Public Health Agency (PHA), said: “As funder of Research and Development infrastructure, we are very proud of the part played by Northern Ireland researchers in delivering the Novavax vaccine trial. This required a huge effort and many long hours of work, and I would like to take this opportunity to commend each and every one of those involved. 

“I would also like to extend a particular thanks to the volunteers who came forward to participate in the trial – of whom there were almost 500 participants in Northern Ireland – without their willingness to take part, it could not have happened. This is a great outcome, which again demonstrates the critical contribution R&D makes and the importance of investing in research, not only now during the pandemic, but at all times for the better health and social care of the population in Northern Ireland and beyond.” 

The UK-wide clinical trial was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). 


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Photo: Professor Stuart Elborn Professor Stuart Elborn
Professor Elborn, Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor, is a well-established international leader in healthcare having driven major changes in healthcare delivery in the field of cystic fibrosis and bronchiectasis.