Gazette columnist Alan Hayman becomes a guinea pig for a winter booster jab against Covid

ST Thomas's Hospital, in central London, has done a fine job of fighting the Covid plague.

When Boris Johnson caught the virus, the doctors and nurses at Tommy's Hospital fought hard and successfully to pull him back from the brink.

Many other folk owe their lives to the skill and devotion of the Tommy's staff.

Now they've opened a new front in the Covid war - researching the need for a third booster jab to keep people safe from Covid next winter.

That's when crowded places with no open windows will be breeding grounds for germs.

I visited Tommy's this week - not as a patient, but as a healthy volunteer taking part in their forthcoming nationwide clinical trial.

The aim will be to see if a third Covid jab tweaks our immune systems, and which medical products do the job best.

We'll be playing a kind of blind vaccine roulette, being randomly injected with one of six different vaccines.

Some haven't been used much in the UK before, and we won't be told which type has gone into our individual arms until the trial is over.


Gazette contributor Alan Hayman

The secrecy may seem unusual, but it's a normal part of Gold Standard medical research.The researchers will also be trying out different levels of vaccine doses, to see which has the strongest effect.

And a small number of volunteers will be randomly assigned to a control group, who'll be vaccinated against a completely different disease.

That may seem bizarre, but it checks how much the Covid vaccines achieve compared to folk who get none of the six products being tested.

I've done these clinical trials at big London hospitals twice before, and haven't regretted it.

In the first one, we were asked to take a big hit of antibiotics to wipe out a nasty breed of stomach bugs called Helicobacter Pylorii.

The drugs turned my teeth black for a while, and briefly kept me chained to the toilet.

But the bad guys disappeared as predicted, and with them the risk of stomach diseases caused by the helicobacter germs.

The other trial tested whether or not taking Omega fish oil protects people against heart disease.

Some of us swallowed the fish oil every day, while a small control group were given olive oil capsules instead.

Neither the doctors nor the volunteers knew who was getting which capsule.

At the end, I was told I'd actually been in the control group taking olive oil.

Gazette: St Thomas' Hospital in Central London where it is believed Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been admitted for tests as his coronavirus symptoms persist. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday April 6, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit

But our group hadn't lost out by not taking fish oil capsules. The study found that omega fish oil, in fact, had no noticeable benefit in curbing heart disease.

That may seem disappointing but it's the way science works.

When you test apparently promising theories to see if they're true, the evidence sometimes shows they don't stack up.

That can save time, money and effort being lavished on ineffective treatments.

So maybe the jab I get at Tommy's will prove to have only a limited effect against Covid - or none at all if I wind up in the control group.

That, frankly, doesn't matter much in the wider scheme of things.

This clinical trial is looking for vaccines that work, so when millions of doses are bought by the NHS, patients get the best possible protection against this cruel and deadly disease.

According to Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford vaccine team, the evidence isn't yet in to prove that a third jab will be needed this winter.


However, Government chief medical advisor, Sir Chris Whitty is already expecting an autumn or winter Covid surge.

NHS Providers boss Chris Hopson thinks annual booster jabs may be needed for up to ten years.

Whoever's right, let's make sure we know the facts about the best booster jabs.

Better be safe than sorry.