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30th December 2021

‘Emergence of Omicron shows just how vital ongoing research is’

Research leaders in Wales reflect on the first anniversary of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine approval.

Research in Wales is more important than ever as the UK faces a rise in COVID-19 cases and the new Omicron variant. Since the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine approval, one year ago today (30 December), Wales has played a vital role in the set up and delivery of multiple COVID-19 vaccine and treatment trials.

Using the experience and models established to deliver the of the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine trial, Health and Care Research Wales has supported trials that informed the current outstanding booster programme; four new vaccines, including a plant-based vaccine; a study to see if COVID-19 and flu jabs could be given at the same time; and to inform the programme for 12-15-year olds.

Dr Nicola Williams, Director of Support and Delivery at Health and Care Research Wales, said: “This milestone reminds us of where we started. Research is now more important than ever in the fight against the Omicron variant. Together with Public Health Wales, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and the Centre for Trials Research at Cardiff University, we’re so grateful for all the thousands of incredible volunteers who came forward to take part in the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine trial and the many other COVID-19 trials in Wales this year. Other booster and new variant trials continue, and Wales will be alongside other nations playing our part in these vital studies to ensure we can offer ongoing protection to our populations.

“I want to thank every single member of staff who has supported the delivery of research in Wales this year – whether that is COVID-19 research or other vital research that has been undertaken.”

As well as vaccine trials, Wales has been at the heart of studies into treatments to reduce the severity of the virus, speed up recovery and avoid hospitalisation. The recently launched antiviral study PANORAMIC, is investigating whether antiviral tablets, taken at home soon after symptoms begin, could reduce hospital admissions.

The study is led by University of Oxford and delivered in Wales by Public Health Wales, Health and Care Research Wales and Cardiff University Centre for Trials Research.

Dr Andrew Carson-Stevens, Principal Investigator for Wales for the PANORAMIC Study and Health and Care Research Wales Specialty Lead for Primary Care, said: “This is such an important development in how we treat and manage COVID-19, especially to those most vulnerable, and I’m so proud that Wales will play an integral part. It is open to those over 50, or people 18-49 with an underlying health condition with a positive COVID-19 test and symptoms for less than 5 days.”

The past year has also seen the establishment of the new Wales COVID-19 Evidence Centre. The Centre ensures the best available, up-to-date, and relevant evidence is readily available to decision makers across health and social care in Wales, and has produced evidence reports on long COVID, face coverings, the effects of the pandemic on children and more.

Dr Williams continued: “As the virus continues to mutate, and the NHS faces pressures against the Omicron variant, it’s clear we need to continue our research efforts to find the best vaccine and treatments to help beat this virus.”