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As a research study, the legal basis for processing information about you is ”a task in the public interest”. Data protection regulation provides you with control over your personal data and how it is used. However, when you agree to your information being used in research, some of those rights may be limited in order for the research to be reliable and accurate. Further information about your rights with respect to your personal data used in research is available here

See here for a guide on how to take blood from a fingerprick in English and Welsh


Everyone in the study can receive a COVID-19 vaccination when they are eligible to do so - if your healthcare provider asks questions about the study, you can show them this letter confirming this

People who have received a COVID-19 vaccination can stay in the study - and it is extremely important that they do so, as long as they are willing. From the trials, we know that the vaccine is not 100% effective and we need to monitor how well it works in the real-world.
Thank you for your continued participation.

Why is my antibody result negative when I have had a Covid-19 vaccination?

This can happen because, as individuals, we all respond differently to vaccination, which means that our bodies take different times to develop antibodies and some people don’t develop antibodies to the threshold levels at which the antibody tests register a positive result. These differences between individuals and how we respond are the reasons for the survey and what our Scientists are trying to understand about what they mean for controlling the spread of the virus.

Please remember that whatever your test results, now or in the future, if you develop coronavirus symptoms, it is very important that you follow the current government guidance and do not wait for the results of any tests done in this survey.

If I get a negative antibody result and have been vaccinated, does that mean the vaccine hasn’t worked?

A negative antibody result does not mean that the vaccine hasn’t worked. A negative antibody result could have happened because your body has not yet had the time to develop the antibodies. Alternatively, it could be that your body has not developed enough antibodies to meet the threshold at which the tests register a positive antibody response, but that your antibody levels have still risen. Finally, antibodies are only part of the way that our bodies fight infection. There are other parts of the immune system, for example, cells call T-cells, that also fight infection but we are not measuring these because they require a lot more blood and very fast processing that isn’t possible in the survey. So those without a detectable antibody response may still be protected against getting COVID-19.

As individuals we all respond differently, and it is the impact of these differences that our Scientists are trying to understand.

However, it is really important to understand that even in the trials, the vaccines didn’t stop people getting COVID-19 – they did stop almost all hospitalisations and deaths though. So we already know that some people will get COVID-19 again and they may still be able to transmit the virus onto others.

Please remember that whatever your test results, now or in the future, if you develop coronavirus symptoms, it is very important that you follow the current government guidance and do not wait for the results of any tests done in this survey. 


Swab tests in the study are done for research purposes only and are not part of the NHS community testing programmes. The Department of Health and Social Care confirm that the research tests done as part of the study should not be considered in any activity that is standardly reliant on results of a test done through the NHS testing programme, providing that participants do not have symptoms. Therefore, participants should not be excluded from any activity on the basis of pending research swab test results if they do not have symptoms, this includes COVID-19 vaccinations, going to schools or nurseries and going to work.
Please see this letter confirming this.


Please note we will never ask for your bank details, the vouchers will only ever be issued by email or in some cases by post.

Getting your swab test results back

The COVID-19 Infection Survey is a research study, not a testing programme. We return swab test results to participants, but swab tests from the research study are lower priority than swab tests from the national testing programmes and clinical service. This is because our positivity rates are lower, because we are testing people in the community as part of the surveillance research study, rather than testing people with symptoms or who have had direct contact with cases. Our swab tests, which are mostly on people without COVID, cannot be prioritised over testing those with symptoms in clinical service, where the percentage positive is much higher and hence from which more positive individuals will be identified overall.

It is very important that anyone in the study who develops symptoms of COVID-19 follows the guidance on self-isolation relevant to where you live. Even if you have had a recent swab test done in this survey and have developed symptoms, do not wait for its results before self-isolating. Please follow the guidance on getting a swab test for your area, do not wait for the results from any swab test done in the survey.

In the research study, it takes a day to get the swab to the labs, then it can take 3-4 days to do the tests because we are behind the queue of all the symptomatic testing. Results are sent back every morning from the labs to the research study. Once results come back, they are matched to participants via their barcode and letters sent out. So it typically takes at least a week before people get their swab test results. 

From 28th September, results are no longer being sent back to GPs - you will get your results directly by letter (as explained in the most recent adult information sheet)

What happens if your nose and throat swab is positive?

If one of your nose and throat swabs tests positive, as soon as we receive it back from the labs we pass the result onto the national tracing programme (NHS Test and Trace in England, NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect in Wales, the Test and Contact Tracing programme in Northern Ireland and the Test and Protect system in Scotland). 

  • They will then call you. 
  • This is very likely to be BEFORE you get this positive result back from the study. If you are currently having weekly follow-up, the call may even come before you get a negative or failed result back from your previous test because of the timelines above - please check the dates that are printed on all the result letters.
  • Please engage fully with the national tracing programme and follow the advice provided e.g. on self-isolation
  • In England, Test and Trace will be able to give you a code to upload your positive result to the NHS app.

It is very important to know that a lot of people who test positive for COVID-19 do not have any symptoms - at least half the people in our study who are positive do not report having any symptoms (Section 3). This does not mean the test is wrong. The test we use has a false-positive rate of under 0.005% (described in this study), meaning fewer than one in 20,000 people who are really negative will get a positive swab test result. People without symptoms can still pass the virus on, so it is very important to follow the advice from the tracing programme.

Testing positive repeatedly in the study


From Wednesday 2 December 2020 the self-isolation regulations changed in England - see here - these now exempt participants of ethically approved coronavirus research (like this study) from multiple periods of self-isolation if they have repeated positive swab tests within 90 days of their initial positive test. 

If you test positive repeatedly in the survey and are contacted by the contact tracing program, providing that you have already completed one period of self-isolation and providing you have not developed any further symptoms, you should tell the contract tracing programme that you have already self-isolated. 

The original regulations in England were developed for testing people with symptoms, and also assuming that people would clear the infection quite quickly without being tested again. As above, we know now that lots of people test positive without symptoms and also that people can carry on being positive for much longer than was thought originally. The experience of participants in our study has directly informed the change to guidance, led by our colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care. 


In Scotland, individuals in surveillance studies like this survey are exempt from multiple periods of self-isolation if they have repeated positive swab tests within 90 days of a previous positive (see the guidance from Health Protection Scotland here). In Northern Ireland and Wales, please contact local public health teams.

How your information is used

Please note that if you signed up to take part in the study before 21 July 2020 there has been a small change to the way in which information from participants in the COVID-19 Infection Survey is to be used by the ONS. The ONS intends to link data from the survey to other survey and administrative data sets it holds. This will be beneficial in providing more in-depth analysis, which in turn will enable us to better understand the impact and nature of COVID-19 and answer critical questions to assist public health authorities and policy makers in better responding to the pandemic in the months ahead. This analysis is not part of the Infection Survey itself. Such linkage will continue for as long as there is value for statistical research and analysis.

The ONS may provide access to this data to accredited researchers for accredited research purposes, where it is lawful and ethical to do so, and where the research is considered to be in the public good. It will not be possible to identify individuals from this data. Data will only be used for statistical research and analysis purposes and will not be shared with anyone else (other than access by accredited researchers).

What happens if YOU move house?

The survey is based on a representative sample of addresses and so if you move house, your participation in the survey will finish. We will use the data collected up to the time you leave the survey.