VACCINE TRIAL Retired solicitor and farmer Tony Turnbull
VACCINE TRIAL Retired solicitor and farmer Tony Turnbull

Tony Turnbull, a retired solicitor and farmer from Teesdale, took part in a vaccine study in Hartlepool. He shares his experience, hoping it will encourage others to volunteer

THE race to find a coronavirus vaccine has been under way since March – with the first being approved in the UK this month.

And as the news about the Covid vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech has paved the way for vaccinations to start, other trials are continuing.

Experts say the world will need several vaccines on tap if it is to shed the virus. The Covid-19 vaccine research registry was launched in the summer and more than 23,000 people have now signed up in the North East and North Cumbria. But the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), a Government agency which funds research into health and care, says more people are needed to register their interest to take part.

The Novavax phase three Covid-19 vaccine trial achieved its recruitment target just two months after opening in the UK – with 15,203 volunteers from across the country recruited in record time.

It is now the largest double blind placebo-controlled phase three Covid vaccine trial to be undertaken in the UK so far.

Tony Turnbull, a retired solicitor and farmer, took part in a vaccine study in Hartlepool. He tells his experience...

 “I retired from legal practice nine years ago and farming three years ago which has left me with plenty of free time. I live in Barnard Castle and after retiring from farming I decided to do some voluntary hospital driving, which ceased with the advent of Covid-19.

“Shortly afterwards I heard that our local GP practice was looking for volunteers to deliver prescriptions to patients from the outlying villages and farms who, for various reasons, were unable to collect them themselves and I have been doing this ever since.

“It can sometimes take as long as a couple of hours but I enjoy doing it as it has allowed me to get out and about at a time when I’d otherwise have been restricted to staying in the house with the odd walk to relieve the boredom.

“My wife Jo (in particular) and I are inclined to do voluntary work when the mood takes us and at an early stage in the pandemic resolved that if there was anything we could do to help achieve a solution to bring an end to it then we wanted to be part of it. A lot of people in our area were –and still are – frightened of going on trials and didn’t appreciate how safe it was but my family and I wanted to do our bit.

“For me, the real risk of Covid-19 was, and still is, of anything happening to either my wife or myself in view of our respective ages, 75 and 74.

“When I heard that there was a Covid-19 Vaccine Research Registry seeking people to enrol in Covid-19 studies I put my name down.

“Shortly thereafter I was told that a study was about to start and was looking for people from the County Durham area, and as it was the only local trial I could be involved in at that time, I went for it.

“Initially taking part in the study was irritating. I had to fill in an online screening questionnaire from an American company which kept freezing and dropping the link and if it hadn’t been for the fact that others in my family had persevered and successfully navigated their way through it, I would have given up. Nevertheless I got through it in the end and quickly thereafter received an invitation from Hartlepool Hospital to join the trial, which impressed and relieved me in equal measure.

“My first visit started with a health check and screening. The staff really put me at ease and were very friendly and professional. I wasn’t nervous and the first thing they did was to test me for Covid-19, then they took my blood pressure, after which a blood sample was taken and I was also asked questions to ensure that I understood what was involved in the trial and that I was taking part voluntarily.

“I then got the green light and was accepted. I was given my first (painless) injection then I was escorted to the recovery room for a brief time for monitoring (and a cup of tea) and an appointment was made for my second visit.

“I received my Covid-19 test result after a couple of days and it was negative.

“I had my second visit on November 2, I had a blood test then my second injection, this was given in the opposite shoulder to the first, and they also did some health checks and took my blood pressure followed by the same recovery and appointment procedure as previously.

“My third appointment, for the antibody blood test, was on November 17 and didn’t take very long at all. Again I was very impressed by the friendliness and professionalism of the medical and research staff. A further follow up appointment has been made for the end of January.

“I would strongly recommend taking part in a vaccine study if you get the opportunity.”

People wishing to volunteer to support clinical trials can sign up with the NHS Covid-19 vaccine research registry, developed in partnership with NHS Digital.

Anyone living in the UK can sign up online to take part in the trials by visiting