An Inclusive Approach to COVID-19 Vaccine Research

Thursday 25th March 2021

Public opinion about Covid-19 vaccine research has been mixed, with some people being very hesitant when it comes to participating in Covid-19 vaccine research. This could result in incomplete data on the vaccine’s effectiveness across all communities, so it is important for recruitment to be as fully representative of the city and region as possible.

A team from the NIHR Leeds Biomedical Research Centre and NIHR Leeds Clinical Research Facility – both collaborations between Leeds Teaching Hospitals and the University of Leeds - felt that the best way to understand this hesitancy when it came to Covid-19 vaccine research, was to speak to different community groups. With this understanding, concerns could be alleviated by making sure that the questions people had about vaccine research were answered, allowing them to make an informed decision about their participation.

The team started by approaching a community Hub made up of members of culturally diverse communities. The meaningful dialogue with them started the development of a series of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ (FAQs) focusing on concerns that people had about side effects and the speed that the vaccines were being developed at. Another point that became clear within the session was the acknowledgment that for many people this was the first time that they had been engaged with about research, and this could be interpreted as ‘targeting’ and a tokenistic practice, especially considering the undeniable context of the disproportionate impact of Covid-19.

As well as being the first group the team engaged with, the ‘BAME Equality Hub’ shared the details of the project with other community groups and voluntary sector organisations. To acknowledge the time and effort that goes into arranging sessions, and also the support that the voluntary sector and community groups are providing to people within their communities, a one-off payment of £300 for each activity was offered.

In total eight ‘question and answer’ sessions were held, involving a total of 82 people representative of different communities. Participants identified as representatives of the following communities; Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic; Refugees and Asylum Seekers; LGBTQ+; people living with disabilities, people living with long-term health conditions; working age; and people of faith. As well as the sessions, three meetings took place with organisations working with the following communities; sex workers; people living with learning disabilities; people living with mental ill health; and older people.

Alongside this, a communications strategy was critical to the successful deployment of the vaccine trials. Part of this included the creation of a bespoke regional vaccine trial logo; the final version of this was voted on by Patient and Public Involvement members. The discussions that informed the FAQs have also contributed to the development of an animation that provides a brief explanation of what Covid-19 vaccine research is, whilst highlighting the importance of representation of different people within it; this has been translated into Hindu and Punjabi and shared outside our region.

The ’FAQs’ have now been developed and shared with the different community groups engaged with. Although vaccines are starting to roll out, research is ongoing and participation is still essential. As well as answering questions about vaccine research and the development of vaccine research, the ‘FAQs’ serve as a helpful document in relation to participating in health research more generally.