Sheffield nurse reveals when Covid-19 vaccine could be ready after volunteering for trials

A Sheffield nurse says his experience of the ‘horror’ of coronavirus persuaded him to volunteer for trials of a new vaccine.

Monday, 22nd June 2020, 8:52 am
Updated Monday, 22nd June 2020, 8:52 am

Joan Pons Laplana, a digital manager at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, returned to the frontline working in intensive care at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital when the pandemic began.

The 45-year-old father-of-three, who lives in Chesterfield, is among more than 10,000 volunteers recruited for trials of a vaccine developed by the University of Oxford, which could be rolled out as early as September if successful.

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Joan Pons Laplana has been working in intensive care at Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital during the coronavirus crisis

“I’ve been living the horror of this virus every day I’ve been at work. I’ve seen how cruel it can be, how people have died alone with no relatives by their side,” he said.

“As a son, I’ve not been able to visit my parents in Spain, and as a father, I’ve watched it killing the youth of my children who haven’t been able to go out and meet their friends and enjoy the things they usually would.

“You read that it could come back every winter with a new wave and I don’t want to be living like this every winter. The only way to take back control of our lives is with a successful vaccine.”

Joan Pons Laplana has volunteered to take part in trials of a new coronavirus vaccine

Joan says he signed up for the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 trials around three weeks ago after being invited to do so by bosses at his hospital trust, which is playing a leading role in the huge study.

He had to undergo health checks and get tested to see if he had already contracted COVID-19, which to his surprise he hadn’t, before being injected.

Researchers were particularly keen to recruit volunteers working on the frontline, like Joan, who are at greater risk of being exposed to the disease, as this is the best way of testing whether the vaccine works.

All participants are being injected with either the COVID-19 vaccine or a licensed meningitis vaccine which is being used as a control for comparison, and they will not discover which they have received until the trials are complete.

“I feel like an Olympic athlete now because I’m constantly being tested. Each week, I have to do a swab and send it off, and each day, I have to take my temperature and check whether I have any other symptoms. Once a month, I have to go for a blood test and medical examination at the hospital.

“Trials like this would usually take years but they hope to have enough data by the end of August to decide whether the vaccine’s safe and effective, and they’re so confident it will work that they’ve already started production.”

The vaccine is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus which causes infections in chimpanzees, and has been genetically changed so it is impossible for it to replicate in humans.

Joan, many of whose colleagues have also volunteered for the trials, said he hasn’t yet experienced any adverse reaction.

“Hopefully by next year we’ll be able to go out without any anxiety, without looking behind ourselves all the time to see if people are keeping their distance, and we’ll have control of our future again,” he added.