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Participants in the Novavax trial say they have been “abandoned” and feel like “second-class citizens” after volunteering to help find a vaccine for Covid-19.
Thousands of people involved in the Novavax vaccine trial have been left in limbo while the vaccine awaits approval, leaving them unable to travel internationally or participate in the booster program.
Ministers have already reached an agreement to purchase 60 million doses of the vaccine produced by the American company, while around 15,000 people in the UK have participated in the study which began last year.
But delays in authorizing the vaccine have left participants, including hundreds of frontline NHS workers, facing significant restrictions from those who received doses of approved vaccines such as Pfizer, Astra Zeneca or Moderna.
An NHS intensive care consultant told PoliticsHome they participated because they “wanted to help society at large” but now felt “quite desperate”.
âAt the time we were involved in the trial, there was no immediate prospect of treatment for Covid,â they said.
“You approach these things wanting to help society at large and now we find ourselves in a position where we have been at a disadvantage compared to everyone else despite the government saying you would not be.”
According to a recent update from the organizers of the trial, participants will not be able to get a booster dose of the vaccine, raising concerns that NHS staff working on the front lines may be at increased risk.
“I work in intensive care and we had a scorching time with Covid from the start. I have treated a lot of people this year with Covid and a lot of them have died,” the NHS doctor said.âWe feel pretty desperate that there doesn’t seem to be anyone championing this cause in government in terms of trying to find a solution. There is a lot of corporate rhetoric that comes up when you try to push for a response, but no one is willing to take any responsibility for moving this project forward. “
They added: “We got our shots pretty early and there are no studies at the moment showing how long my antibody response will be sustained. The reason we are doing the booster program is because we are doing the booster program. know that with Pfizer there is a drop in antibody levels. “
While some of those who received the trial vaccine were recently able to register their vaccination status under the national certification system, they continue to face barriers to international travel as the vaccine has yet to be approved. in most other countries.
âI also feel disadvantaged because while all of my colleagues were able to go on vacation during the summer to recharge my batteries, I had to stay in the UK due to the impact of the trip. There is a risk that I am turned away at the border of another country, âadded the intensive care doctor.
“Like many other people, I have booked a vacation for next year that I may not be able to continue. We are now in a dilemma.”
In a letter viewed by PoliticsHome, the NHS consultant told England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam that many NHS staff who took part in the trial now “regretted” their involvement.
âUnfortunately, most of us now regret participating. We now find ourselves at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to travel compared to people who have had an approved vaccine, âthey wrote.
âIn your June 11 open letter to trial participants, you said that we would not be at a disadvantage for travel, but unfortunately it still happens.
“While my Novavax vaccine is now showing up in the NHS app, in reality it does not help me travel as it does not ‘prove’ vaccination outside the UK.”
Responding to concerns, Van Tam said he was “absolutely determined” to address the issues facing trial participants.
âI would like to offer my sincere apologies for the problems you are having,â he wrote.
âThis is one of my priority problems and I am absolutely determined to solve it. Without your participation in a Covid-19 clinical trial, we would not have been able to implement our revolutionary vaccination program which has saved over 100,000 lives and prevented 23 million infections in England alone. “
He added: âThe policy position of the UK government is that anyone participating in a Covid-19 vaccine trial should be treated as fully vaccinatedâ¦ Urgent work continues to ensure that all trial participants can access a national pass so no one is left behind. “
But another NHS consultant surgeon expressed frustration at the “vague promises and management rhetoric” in response to their concerns.
“We were told we were not eligible for a recall under the current program, leaving NHS staff who came forward to participate in the trial potentially at greater risk of catching Covid than those who have received an approved vaccine, âthey said. .
“Despite government assurances that we would not be at a disadvantage, we found ourselves in an impossible situation. Our vaccines are not recognized in other countries, and we have no way of getting another vaccine without having to quit the test completely. “
They added: âMany people have come together to take this vaccine in the hope that it will help get out of the pandemic, but now we have been abandoned.âWhen we voice our concerns, we are given vague promises and management speaks. Thousands of people have volunteered when asked, and now, because of the delay and inaction, we risk be treated like second-class citizens.
“We need urgent action to ensure that those who put themselves forward are not left behind.”
Those wishing to receive an approved vaccine have also faced hurdles after the Joint Committee on Immunization and Immunization (JCVI) issued guidelines stating that immunization centers should not provide vaccines to anyone involved in immunization. trials, which led to claim that participants are now “trapped”.
âI tried twice to get a vaccine approved, but it was refused,â said a Novavax participant. “Recently, the local vaccination center told me that JCVI specifically told them that they are not allowed to give approved vaccines to those who have already been vaccinated with Novavax.”
“We are completely trapped. We have received an effective vaccine that is essentially not recognized by many countries, and we have no way of getting an approved vaccine.”
They added: “I have high regard for the work being done by the NHS and I see the vital role of research in improving health care. Research has made it possible to emerge from this pandemic.
âHowever, I think our contribution as volunteers has not been appreciated, and the situation we find ourselves in now is very unfair.
“None of the agencies involved have taken this situation seriously, and none of them are providing a way out, or offering to compensate us for any loss. I feel completely left out.”
Responding to the group, a government spokesperson said: âThe COVID-19 vaccine trials have been absolutely critical in developing safe and effective vaccines that have prevented 230,800 hospitalizations and 123,100 deaths – and that’s thanks to the volunteers. that made these trials possible.
“We are urgently working to resolve this issue and any decisions will be communicated directly to the participants and to the chief investigators of the trial as soon as possible.”
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