Volunteers in the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine trial - on which hopes of ending the global pandemic may rest - have been sharing swabs with people not involved in the study, The Independent can reveal.
A message to participants of the clinical trial, sent today from the Covid research team based at Guys and St Thomas’ Hospitals Trust in London and seen by The Independent, confirmed some positive infections identified by the trial had been tracked to people who were not participating in the study.
Oxford University today confirmed the problem but said it was a small number of participants whose results could be easily identified and would not affect the final results.
The Oxford University vaccine is one of the leading candidates for mass inoculation against coronavirus to help bring about an end to the pandemic and end the lockdown not just in the UK but around the world.
The message to people taking part in the trial said: “We would like to kindly remind you not to share the Covid swab provided by the study. These swabs’ barcodes are linked to the study, so these results do become trial data. We have recently had cases of positive swab results that turned out not to be from study participants.”
But the actions of some participants drew criticism from one doctor in London, who is also a part of the trial.
Speaking to The Independent, they said: “As both a doctor and a trial participant I am aware that the swabs I send in weekly are incredibly important to track the efficacy of this new vaccine. I am scared and angered in equal measure that some participants are jeopardising this critical study through submitting false data.
“I can only hope that this is happening in numbers that are too small to be statistically significant. If we throw away an effective vaccine because people have swabbed friends and family, then that will prolong problems worldwide. People’s impatience and thoughtlessness could have real, worldwide repercussions.”
They added: “We cannot afford an increase in vaccine scepticism and behaviour like this risks giving ammunition to that cause. A good vaccine is our way out of this crisis and undermining the data quality of an essential study will add genuinely credible evidence to a cause usually based on disproportionate scaremongering and misinformation.”
A spokesperson for Oxford University told The Independent the issue with people sharing swabs was not a risk to the success of the wider vaccine trial.
They said: “These small number of 'borrowed' swabs are easily identified, not counted in any of the study endpoints, and will not have an effect on the final trial results.”
The AstraZeneca Oxford Covid-19 vaccine is now in phase three clinical trials and recent studies have suggested it is effective at triggering an immune response to the Covid-19 virus.
The vaccine, developed by researchers at the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group, is based on a common cold virus from chimpanzees which is altered to prevent infection of humans. The genetic instructions for the Covid-19 virus spike protein is inserted and this is produced in the body, triggering an immune response.