UK Government: large scale virus infection and antibody test study to begin

20,000 households in the UK are being contacted to take part in a major new government study to track Covid-19 in the general population.

The study will track the spread of Covid-19 in the population. 300,000 people are to take part over a 12-month period.

The study will include antibody testing to help understand immunity levels.

The idea to the study is to improve understanding of the rate of infection of the virus and the amount of people who have developed antibodies.

Those that participate will represent a sample of the entire UK population in terms of age and geography demographics.

Results from the study will aid scientists in the ongoing response to the virus outbreak.

Initial findings from the study are said to be expected early May.

The study is led by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The study draws on the scientific expertise of the University of Oxford, backed by the proven testing capabilities of data science company IQVIA UK and the National Biosample Centre in Milton Keynes. 

The study forms part of ‘Pillar 4’ of the government’s Covid-19 testing strategy.

This involves UK-wide surveillance testing to understand the spread of the virus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:

“Understanding more about the rate of COVID-19 infection in the general population, and the longer-term prevalence of antibodies, is a vital part of our ongoing response to this virus.

“This survey will help to track the current extent of transmission and infection in the UK, while also answering crucial questions about immunity as we continue to build up our understanding of this new virus.

“Together, these results will help us better understand the spread of the virus to date, predict the future trajectory and inform future action we take, including crucially the development of ground-breaking new tests and treatments.”

Samples will be taken from participants; nose and throat swabs self-administered.

Additionally, questions will be asked to participants during a home visit by a health worker.

The swab results will show if the participant already has the virus.

Further tests will be administered every week for 5 weeks then every month for 12 months.

Adults from around 1,000 households will also provide a blood sample taken by a trained nurse, phlebotomist or healthcare assistant.

These tests will help determine what proportion of the population has developed antibodies to COVID-19.

Participants will be asked to give further samples monthly for the next 12 months.  

National Statistician Sir Ian Diamond said:

“The Office for National Statistics has huge experience in running very large household surveys that gather vital information from a genuinely representative sample of the entire population.

“In this case we’ll be using that capability to help our health expert colleagues to create a reliable picture of the scale of COVID-19 infection and antibody development that will inform the key decisions that lie ahead in this pandemic.”

Professor Sarah Walker of University of Oxford Nuffield Department of Medicine said:

“This is one of the largest and most important studies underway into the COVID-19 virus and will transform our understanding of the infection. The University of Oxford is delighted to be the study sponsor.”

Tim Sheppard of IQVIA UK said:

“IQVIA is proud to be playing our part in helping to understand COVID-19 – the greatest public health challenge that has faced the world in a generation.

“Our nursing team has 30 years’ experience of working with the NHS to support patient care.

“This population study is vital, time-critical work, and is another part of our global mission to better understand COVID-19 and change the course of this pandemic.”