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New research to understand immune responses against COVID-19 vaccination

Published: 02 March 2023

Thousands of immunosuppressed people will take part in a landmark study.

The study will focus on priority groups for COVID-19 treatments and vaccinations. This includes people who are immunocompromised and those who do not respond well to vaccination. COVID-19 infections have disproportionately affected this group.

Researchers will find out if antibody testing can identify which immunosuppressed people remain at greatest risk of severe COVID-19 infection after vaccinations.

The NIHR has funded the new “Stratification of Clinically Vulnerable People for COVID-19 Risk Using Antibody Testing (STRAVINSKY)” study. It is led by teams from the University of Birmingham and the University of Southampton, with many co-applicants from across the country.

The study will receive £2.8 million from the Department of Health and Social Care via the NIHR. It will involve 3000 immunocompromised participants over two years. 2,600 participants will receive a finger-prick antibody test. And 400 will receive more detailed immune analyses.

It is hoped the findings will provide up-to-date information on the impact of booster vaccinations for:

  • Clinicians
  • Policymakers
  • The public

The findings could inform future advice given to people who are immunosuppressed.

The STRAVINSKY study team will work closely with researchers from the PITCH study. The PITCH study focuses on healthcare workers’ immune response. It has been funded by UKRI.

Professor Lucy Chappell, NIHR CEO and Department of Health and Social Care Chief Scientific Adviser said:

“This study will help to understand how different patient groups with weakened immune systems respond to COVID-19, including new variants, and to vaccination. We hope that it will inform development of more specific advice and help people understand their own levels of risk, based on better information from antibody levels.”

Health Minister Will Quince said:

“There remains a number of people with weakened immune systems who may be at higher risk of serious illness from Covid, despite the effectiveness and success of our phenomenal vaccination programme.

“We are committed to helping immunosuppressed people with support that is grounded in data and evidence, and this landmark study - delivered by the UK’s world leading researchers - will help us understand which patient groups remain at higher risk and how best to help them.”

Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at UKHSA , said:

“Studies of COVID-19 immunity have been vital in helping us to understand how best to use vaccination in this vulnerable population, alongside real world evidence on protection. We look forward to seeing the results of this antibody testing study.

“Vaccines remain the best way to protect yourself against serious infections, including COVID-19, and those eligible are urged to accept all the vaccines and boosters they are recommended – including the families of people with weakened immune systems.”

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