Many avid readers of the blog will remember the guest post from Sita a few weeks ago. As part of her elective placement I asked her to look at some of the early data from people taking part in the COVID blood spot study, and she has written a blog post below talking about what she found.
This is very timely, as in a BartsMS advisory group meeting this morning I was reminded of the importance of feeding back to people taking part in research regularly – not just at the start and end, but with progress reports along the way as well. As a researchers, when you’re in the midst of paddling madly trying to get results out, or understand some of what you have found, it doesn’t always feel like the “right” time to feedback. However, there is never really a wrong time! At the moment we are working hard on the lab side analysing blood spots and making sure that all of the results that we get are accurate, alongside sending out more packs to those that are due them. But in the meantime, here is some data from the first c200 people who have returned packs – we are hugely grateful to every one of you.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, my name is Sita and I am a final year medical student. For the past month I have been spending time with the neurology and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) team. In this time, I have been helping to recruit people for our blood spot study, which looks at Covid-19 antibodies in people with MS.
I have also been analysing some of the data from the first 211 participants who have completed and returned questionnaires, so I thought it would be nice to discuss some of the things I have been looking at.
I found that the average age of people taking part in this study was around 42 years old and the average time since diagnosis was 8.6 years. Most people had relatively stable MS, with around 30% having had a relapse in the past year. Over 90% of people in the study were on treatment, of which Ocrelizumab (Ocrevus) was the commonest, followed by Natalizumab. This reflects the fact that the first people that we recruited to the study were those who were coming to the hospital for their infusions. Over 80% of those on Ocrelizumab received both their vaccine doses within 5 weeks or less – compared to only 33% of those on Natalizumab.
In terms of vaccinations, it was twice as common for people to have received the AstraZeneca vaccine compared to the Pfizer vaccine. Our data showed that of those who had received both vaccine doses, around 2/3 of you received both vaccine doses within five weeks. At this time, this is most likely because we would be more likely to have complete vaccination data for those of you who had received both doses. We were able to obtain a blood spot sample prior to vaccination in 129 people taking part in this study, and the purpose of this is to find out how many people living with MS had Covid-19 antibodies prior to vaccination.
Our data also revealed that 53 participants were shielding during the pandemic, with an additional 90 participants following strict social isolation. Over 100 participants reported having had covid symptoms, which lasted on average 15 days. The symptom length did not appear to be affected by MS treatments. Interestingly, around 1/3 of people who were shielding developed Covid-19 symptoms; however, this was not observed in those with a strict social isolation status – only 13% of those isolating developed symptoms. It is possible that this finding could be coincidental and may indeed change as we analyse more participants, but at the moment we can’t explain it.
But what does this all mean for you?
At the moment, not a huge amount. We did this kind of analysis to get a general idea about what the cohort of participants is like. Our current steps are analysing the samples you have sent in to find out how many people produce a sufficient antibody response to the vaccine. For those of you taking part in the study, please remember to email us when you have had your second vaccine dose so we know when to send out your blood test kit! For anyone who isn’t taking part but is keen (and under the care of BartsMS) please let us know. We are particularly interested in hearing from people who are taking oral (tablet) medications for their MS.