A short interview with one of the SIREN study’s lead researchers, Professor Lesley Price

Interviewed by Dr Desy Nuryunarsih

Professor Lesley Price is the lead of the Scottish arm of SIREN (SARS-CoV-2 immunity and reinfection evaluation).  SIREN is the UK-wide prospective longitudinal cohort study investigating the impact of detectable anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody on the incidence of COVID-19 in healthcare workers.

I am delighted to have had the chance to conduct an exclusive interview with Professor Lesley Price.

Here, she shared her background knowledge, what this research has meant for her and what motivated her team to conduct this research. She also shared her experiences while leading this research, from the challenges she has faced to the lessons she has learned from this journey. Finally, she shared her opinion on what the impact of this research would be on society and what may have happened if this research was never conducted.

Professor Lesley Price

Can you tell me a bit about your background and the reason why you accepted the role of Scottish Lead for SIREN?

This is an unusual research study in that it requires somebody to coordinate the activities of the Scottish Government, the Chief Scientist Office for Scotland, Public Health Scotland and the 10 Health Boards, and to work in partnership with the United Kingdom Health Security Agency. It requires someone with experience of clinical research to be able to understand the role and challenges of all these organisations. I agreed to do this role as it was challenging and offered me a unique experience.

What does this research study mean for you?

It means different things for me. On a personal level, it is a new challenge and an opportunity to continue developing my skills. For Glasgow Caledonian University staff it offers experience of working on the largest COVID study of its kind and it enhances the national profile of their research. On a national and global level, it is an extremely important study for developing knowledge and understanding of the protection offered from previous infection and vaccination that contributes to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Can you talk briefly about the motivation behind the study and how this research can help the community?

When the pandemic started, we knew very little about how we could protect people from acquiring the virus and how we could stop its transmission within society. We did not have a vaccine and all we could advise were public health measures, such as social distancing, wearing face masks and performing hand hygiene. There was a great need to understand what factors could protect people from getting the infection. This is what this study does by investigating people’s immune response to infection and vaccination.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for this study?

The biggest challenge we had was in recruiting people into the study and maintaining their commitment to the study over 2+ years of data collection.  We ask participants to have a nose and throat swab every two weeks, to complete an online questionnaire every two weeks and to have blood taken every month. This is a huge commitment, and it is credit to the participants that, despite being under extreme pressure at work during the pandemic, they did so.

On a personal level, what key learning have you gleaned from your journey as Scottish lead for the SIREN study?

I have learned that Scotland’s healthcare staff are amazing. They were working long hours under extreme conditions and intense emotional labour, yet they still contributed to the study. I have been impressed and delighted at the response of the Scottish Health Boards, their research teams and the staff who volunteered to take part in the study. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, these people have gone beyond my expectations and helped to make the study happen in Scotland. It’s hard to express how impressive their response has been.

I have been convinced that the fundamental skill underpinning leadership is communication. Clear, concise, open and honest communication is essential for ensuring a study protocol is comprehensively implemented and the whole team (participants, researchers, administrators, managers, funders) are aware of and are valued for their contribution.

Has this study had a wider impact on the community?

One impact has been that a Health Board, serving a remote Scottish community, has for the first time been involved in a very large national research study. They have been so impressed by their experience that they are asking for national systems to be put in place so that they can continue their participation in national research studies. This is very important in ensuring that research conducted in Scotland is representative of the whole of the Scottish population.

Other important impacts are that SIREN results are sent on a regular basis to the UK governments to help inform their management of the pandemic and the results are also shared with international audiences in the form of peer-reviewed journal articles. So far there has been seven such articles published.

And lastly, what would have happened if the study was not here?

It is unique in that it is the largest study of its kind that we know of in the world. It is not the only study investigating people’s immune response to COVID-19 but its strengths are it has provided specific knowledge about the UK population, a very large sample size and a long duration of data collection. It has helped to develop the evidence base for management of COVID-19 infection nationally and internationally.

Thank you very much for your time, it was a pleasure to have this conversation.

Published journal articles from SIREN to date

  1. Pople, D., et al., Burden of SARS-CoV-2 infection in healthcare workers during second wave in England and impact of vaccines: prospective multicentre cohort study (SIREN) and mathematical model. BMJ, 2022. 378: p. e070379. Retrieved from: https://www.bmj.com/content/378/bmj-2022-070379
  2. Wallace, S., et al., Impact of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 vaccination on the subsequent incidence of COVID-19: a multicentre prospective cohort study among UK healthcare workers – the SIREN (Sarscov2 Immunity & REinfection EvaluatioN) study protocol. BMJ Open, 2022. 12(6): p. e054336. Retrieved from: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/12/6/e054336
  3. Atti, A., et al., Serological profile of first SARS-CoV-2 reinfection cases detected within the SIREN study. J Infect, 2022. 84(2): p. 248-288. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34600935/
  4. Hall, V., et al., Protection against SARS-CoV-2 after Covid-19 Vaccination and Previous Infection. New England Journal of Medicine, 2022. 386(13): p. 1207-1220. T. Retrieved from: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2118691
  5. Hall, V.J., et al., SARS-CoV-2 infection rates of antibody-positive compared with antibody-negative health-care workers in England: a large, multicentre, prospective cohort study (SIREN). Lancet, 2021. 397(10283): p. 1459-1469. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33844963/
  6. Hall, V.J., et al., COVID-19 vaccine coverage in health-care workers in England and effectiveness of BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine against infection (SIREN): a prospective, multicentre, cohort study. The Lancet, 2021. 397(10286): p. 1725-1735. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nnih.gov/33901423/
  7. Atti A, Insalata F, Carr EJ, Otter AD, Castillo-Olivares J, Wu M, et al. Antibody correlates of protection from SARS-CoV-2 reinfection prior to vaccination: a nested case-control within the SIREN study. J Infect. Retrieved from: https://www.journalofinfection.com/article/S0163-4453(22)00535-7/fulltext

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