COVID-19 INFECTION SURVEY
The COVID-19 pandemic has had, and continues to have, a profound impact across the UK. This study aims to find out how many people are still getting the infection and how many are likely to have had the infection, even if they haven’t realised it at the time. This is still just as important as more people get vaccinated against COVID-19 with “boosters” and even more vaccinations after this, and more people get COVID-19. We need to continue to monitor how many people are still getting COVID-19, with or without symptoms. We also need to monitor how vaccinations, and having had COVID-19 before, affect our risk of getting COVID-19 in the future - and work out who might need vaccinating again in the future.
One way to find out whether a person has an infection is to directly look for the virus in their nose and throat. The main test used to diagnose COVID-19 uses a swab taken from someone’s nose and throat. Once an individual has recovered from the infection, the virus cannot be found any longer. One way the body fights infections like COVID-19 is by producing small particles in the blood called “antibodies”. It takes 2-3 weeks for the body to make enough of these antibodies to fight the infection. But once a person recovers, they still stay in the blood at low levels and give some protection against future infection. Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is another way that people can get antibodies that can protect them against getting COVID-19. So scientists try to measure levels of both the virus and these antibodies to work out who has COVID-19 now (with or without symptoms) and who has had it in the past, or has developed antibodies against it after getting vaccinated.
In this study we want to find out how many people of different ages across the UK have COVID-19 over time, and how strongly their immune system is reacting to COVID-19, particularly as more people get vaccinated and have had COVID-19 in the past. We do this by testing for the virus in the nose and throat of people and by measuring levels of antibody in the blood. We also want to find out how many people have COVID-19 with symptoms or without knowing they have the infection because they don’t have any symptoms. We want to do this in a group of people that reflects the population of the UK – so a range of ages and places where people live. We will ask everyone aged 2 years or older in each randomly selected household to have a nose and throat swab, and for those aged 12 years and older to answer a few short questions (parents/carers will answer for younger children). Those aged 12 years and older can take their own swabs using self-swabbing kits, and parents/carers will use the same kits to take swabs from their children aged 2-11 years. For the first two years of the pandemic, this has been done at a home visit undertaken by a trained individual, but we are now moving to a more flexible approach. You can read more about this here. We will ask adults aged 16 years or older from a randomly selected subset of these enrolled households to also give a sample of blood. At the start of the study, this was taken from a vein by a trained nurse, phlebotomist or healthcare assistant, but now it is taken by a fingerprick by the participant themselves.
We will ask people to take throat swabs repeatedly, every week for the first month (swab and questionnaire only, no blood draw), and then every month up to the end of the study (including monthly blood draws for those with blood taken originally). This is to find out how rates of infection and immunity change over time in individual people, and whether they can get the virus again with or without having symptoms. We will link information people give us from the survey visits to health data from the NHS (or equivalent bodies in the Devolved Administrations) and primary care whilst they are having study visits and for up to one year after they stop, to find out how much having COVID-19 and being vaccinated affects how often people have to go to hospital or visit their GP, and what health conditions they develop.
To July 2022, over 535,000 people from around 260,000 households across all four nations of the UK have taken part in the study.
- From October 2020 to April 2022, up to ~150,000 individuals provided nose and throat swabs each fortnight in England, ~9,000 in Wales, ~5,000 in Northern Ireland and ~15,000 in Scotland (~179,000 total across the UK) (absolute numbers reflecting the relative size of the underlying populations). Up to ~125,000 people gave blood samples each month in England, and up to ~7,500, ~5,500 and ~12,000 per month in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland (~150,000 in total across the UK) to monitor how vaccination affects immunity at both the population and the individual level.
- From April 2022 onwards, we invited existing participants to move from study worker home visits to posted sample kits and completing questionnaires online/by telephone. From April 2022, we aim to test up to (maximum) 227,300 swab samples from individuals 2 years and older every 28 days in England, 15,650 in Wales, 10,050 in Northern Ireland and 23,200 in Scotland (maximum 276,200 total across the UK every 28 days, maximum 300,000 swab samples in total across the UK per month). We aim to test up to (maximum) 90,850 blood samples taken from individuals 8 years and older every 28 days in England, 6,300 in Wales, 4,150 in Northern Ireland and 9,200 in Scotland (maximum 110,500 in total across the UK every 28 days, maximum 120,000 blood samples in total across the UK per month).
The information we get from the survey will help scientists and the government work out how to manage COVID-19 better moving forwards, and continue to ensure that the NHS is not overwhelmed.
Any questions about how the survey is running on the ground should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are a participant, or a potential participant, and wish to complain about any aspect of the way in which you have been approached or treated, or how your information is handled during the course of the survey, please contact the dedicated study team on UKCOVIDSurvey@iqvia.com or 0800 085 6807. Please do not contact the Nuffield Department of Medicine, as they will not be able to help you, and will not reply to general enquiries or questions about operational issues relating to the study.
You can find out more details of the study through its registration on ISRCTN21086382.