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New research to assess extent of coronavirus infection in children and teenagers

Published: 20 April 2020

New research funded by the NIHR and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will assess rates of coronavirus infection and immunity in children and teenagers across the UK, to provide vital evidence to guide the response to the pandemic.

Understanding the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infections in the community is important for the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is particularly key for children and teenagers, who are mostly spared the worst of the disease but could be spreading the virus to others.

The What’s the STORY (Serum Testing of Representative Youngsters) study at University of Oxford will collect blood samples from healthy children and teenagers aged 0-19 and measure levels of antibodies against the coronavirus causing COVID-19, a marker of having had the infection.

The researchers, led by Professor Matthew Snape, will identify the proportion of children and teenagers who had symptoms of COVID-19 and what proportion are likely to have immunity against the virus. It will also determine how many children have not yet been infected and may remain susceptible when lockdown measures are relaxed.

These data can then be used in mathematical models of the circulation of SARS-CoV-2 and the expected severity and duration of the current outbreak.

The multi-site What’s the STORY project is an ongoing research study led by Oxford Vaccine Group, in collaboration with Public Health England and a network of clinical sites in Bradford, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Southampton, London, Plymouth and Nottingham.

The project was set up in 2019 as a pilot surveillance programme to review a new method of monitoring how well the UK immunisation programme is working. The research has now been adapted to track an additional 1200 children and teenagers for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Professor Matthew Snape said: "One of the many unknown with the current coronavirus outbreak is how many children are being infected and potentially passing on infection to others. Understanding this is vital to understanding how to manage the outbreak response, including decisions about when to re-open schools.

"With this study, the Oxford Vaccine Group are working with Public Health England and a network of sites across England to systematically study how many children and teenagers have immunity against this virus, which in turn tells us how many have had the infection and how many remain potentially vulnerable."

This project is one of 21 new studies into COVID-19 that have been funded by the NIHR and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The two funding rounds to date have invested £24.6 million into 26 research projects to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Those interested in participating in the study can visit the study website to see if the study team are recruiting in their area.

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