Development & Alumni Relations Office 


23 June 2020

Queen’s is leading a UK-wide trial called ‘Seroprevalence of SARS-Cov-2 infection in healthy children’ to measure antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) in healthy children, thanks in part to a generous legacy gift to the University.

Over 1,000 children (known as ‘Covid Warriors’) from Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales will have their antibodies measured at baseline, 2 months and 6 months. 

The aim of the study is to assess the numbers of children who may have had COVID-19, and if those children have antibodies that may be able to fight off the infection. 

The findings will be important for estimating the proportion of children that have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and have antibodies that may be consistent with immunity. This data can then be considered as part of planning measures, such as opening schools and opening routine paediatric services, such as health visiting and paediatric clinics. 

The study is led by Dr Tom Waterfield, researcher from the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine (WWIEM) at Queen’s, in partnership with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust Northern Ireland and Public Health England. 

Dr Waterfield said: “It is unclear what proportion of UK children has been exposed to COVID-19 and how many, if any, have the necessary antibodies to prevent future re-infection.

“This important research may help with planning for the reopening of schools and other vital children’s services.” 

Health and Social Care Research & Development Division (HSC R&D Division) of the Public Health Agency plays an ongoing role in supporting the conduct of high-quality health and social care research and has provided funding to support the delivery of this important study. 

Professor Ian Young, Chief Scientific Advisor and Director of HSC Research and Development, said: “Research studies are vital at this time so that patients can access the best possible treatments which can help tackle the spread of COVID-19.

“HSC R&D Division has been working with researchers across the HSC and academia to address the global problem of COVID-19. The results of this study will provide insights into the exposure of children in the UK to the SARS-CoV-2 virus over an important period of time.” 

Dr Shamez Ladhani, Consultant Epidemiologist at Public Health England, said: “This study will play an important part in monitoring SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the community as we move out of lockdown and more children return to school, adding to vital data on antibody and virus prevalence already being collected through PHE’s national surveillance programme.” 

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I very much welcome the fact that Queen’s University is leading this hugely important UK-wide trial. Expert research has a central role in the world’s battle against Covid-19.

“Our understanding of this virus has already been greatly enhanced at pace but there is still much more to learn. My thanks go to everyone involved in this study.” 

The study is part-funded through an award of £18,750 from HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency and £5,000 from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

It also received £18,000 from the estate of the late Queen’s graduate, Alexander Leckey from Belfast through an unrestricted gift in his will to the Queen’s University Foundation. Alexander studied both Arts and Theology at Queen's, obtaining his BA in 1980 followed by a BTh in Theology in 1996. He died on 5 June 2019, aged 61.

The research is being delivered in partnership with The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Public Health England, the Ulster Independent Clinic, NHS Glasgow and Greater Clyde, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board. 

For information on leaving a legacy to Queen’s, please contact Legacy Manager, Susan Wilson. The ‘Lanyon Society Newsletter’ – the University’s dedicated legacy publication (a recent issue of which can be found here) contains inspiring stories from the generous individuals (alumni and non-alumni) who have chosen to support the University in this way.

Media enquiries should be addressed to the Communications Officer at Queen’s University Belfast. 

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