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NIHR Health Protection Research Unit 

Delivering high-quality and responsive research to tackle today’s vaccine challenges

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About

The NIHR Health Protection Research Unit is a partnership of scientists from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UKHSA and Cambridge University. Our research aims to reverse the decline in immunisation coverage in children, increase vaccine uptake in adults and reduce inequalities in the vaccine service.  

For more information check out this short video about our work!

About
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The HPRU in Vaccines and Immunisation looks at the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, how many people are being vaccinated, disease trends, and the impact of introducing new vaccines. We also look at what people think about vaccines and how we can make it easier for people to access vaccinations.

Partnership

The NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Vaccines and Immunisation is a partnership between the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge.

HPRUs

Our unit is one of 14 Health Protection Research Units (HPRUs) across England, part of an investment by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to protect the health of the nation. The HPRUs fund high quality research that enhances the ability of UKHSA to use innovative techniques to protect the public’s health and minimise the health impact of emergencies, such as COVID-19.

Each NIHR HPRU undertakes high quality research that is used by UKHSA to keep the public safe from current and emerging public health threats.

The NIHR HPRUs focus on collaboration and knowledge sharing, and play a pivotal role in maintaining and growing UKHSA’s scientific expertise and future workforce. The multidisciplinary centres of excellence also deliver responsive research to tackle emerging or potential public health emergencies. 

NIHR

The NIHR's mission is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. The NIHR was established in 2006 and is primarily funded by the Department of Health and Social Care.

Working in partnership with the NHS, universities, local government, other research funders, patients and the public, the NIHR delivers and enables world-class research that transforms people’s lives, promotes economic growth and advances science.

Team
Team Block
Leadership

Anthony
Scott

Professor
Mary Ramsay

Mary Ramsay

Director, Head of Immunisation, UKHSA
Theme 1

Anne
Suffel

Research Degree Student

Helen
McDonald

Assistant Professor
Theme lead
Jemma Walker

Jemma Walker

Senior Statistician, UKHSA; Assistant Professor of Statistical Epidemiology, LSHTM

Julia Stowe

Researcher, UKHSA

Liz Miller

Professor

Nick Andrews

Sophie Graham

Doctoral Researcher, LSHTM
Theme 2

Andre Charlett

Head of Statistics, Modelling and Economics Department, UKHSA
Andromachi Karachaliou

Andromachi Karachaliou

Research Assistant, University of Cambridge
Caroline Trotter

Caroline Trotter

Principal Research Associate, University of Cambridge

Ciara
McCarthy

Research Degree Student

Edwin van Leeuwen

Senior Mathematical Modeller, UKHSA
Lauren Adams

Lauren Adams

Doctoral Researcher, University of Cambridge

Mark
Jit

Professor

Nicholas
Davies

Assistant Professor
Theme 3

Benjamin
Kasstan

Research Fellow

Georgia
Chisnall

Research Degree Student

Heidi
Larson

Professor

Louise Letley

Nurse Manager for Research, Immunisation Operations, UKHSA

Oyinkansola
Ojo-Aromokudu

Research Degree Student

Sadie
Bell

Assistant Professor

Sandra
Mounier-Jack

Associate Professor
Theme lead

Tracey
Chantler

Assistant Professor

Pauline
Paterson

Assistant Professor
Scientific Advisors

Vanessa Saliba

Immunisation, Hepatitis & Blood Safety Department, UKHSA
Academic Career Development

Tracey
Chantler

Assistant Professor

Helen
McDonald

Assistant Professor
Knowledge Mobilisation

Gayatri Amirthalingam

Knowledge Mobilisation Lead, UKHSA
Public and Patient Involvement and Engagement

Pauline
Paterson

Assistant Professor

Sadie
Bell

Assistant Professor
Project Coordinator

Lee White

Camille Wittesaele

Research
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Theme 1 - Making the most of real-world data

This theme aims to increase vaccine coverage and support a data-driven immunisation programme by making the most of digital technologies and linked electronic health records. 

Objectives:

  • Drive evidence-based immunisation policy 
  • Improve vaccine coverage and reduce health inequalities 
  • Make the best use of data in the immunisation programme

To support an evidence-based response to COVID-19, we have undertaken studies to identify who is at risk of COVID-19, understand the effect of the pandemic on uptake of routine childhood vaccinations such as measles, and will be studying the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination. 

An over-arching focus over the five years is understanding how to reduce health inequalities in vaccine uptake and vaccine-preventable disease, including an HPRU-funded PhD to focus on how mental health affects vaccine uptake among mothers and babies.  

We will continue to develop methods for better use of data in delivery and evaluation of the immunisation programme, and vaccine-related research. This will include an HPRU-funded PhD to develop understanding of ‘healthy vaccinee bias’ (in which people who receive vaccines tend to differ from those who do not) and methods to address this in vaccine research. 

Many of our studies make use of anonymised information from NHS patient health records, which is provided by patients and collected by the NHS as part of their care and support, and we are very grateful to the patients and NHS workers who make this possible. 

Find out more information on the value of patient data for research.

Theme 2 - Saving lives, optimising taxpayers' investment

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) uses models of vaccine-preventable diseases to inform (i) the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation decisions about new vaccine introductions and alterations to the existing schedule; (ii) vaccine procurement; and (iii) making the public health and economic case for investment in robust vaccine programmes.  

The methodology for economic models is mature, thanks largely to innovative research over the last 20 years arising from a collaborative partnership between staff now at LSHTM and UKHSA. However, vaccine questions grow increasingly complex and need solutions that are transparent and acceptable to both policymakers and the public. 

Objectives:

  • Ensuring that new vaccines save lives and optimise taxpayers' investment 
  • Making existing vaccines more efficient 
  • Reducing antimicrobial resistance through vaccination 

To ensure vaccines provide value for money we will:

  • Develop mathematical and economic models for new vaccines 
  • Examine whether vaccines can also prevent the development of resistant superbugs 
Theme 3 - Immunisation delivery systems and public interactions with vaccines

This theme will examine how immunisation systems work, and evaluate public responses to vaccination programmes. It aims to understand why targeted populations do not always seek vaccination and implementers do not always create opportunities for vaccinating them. Evidence gathered will support UKHSA to improve uptake, reduce inequalities and increase programme efficiency. 

Objectives:

  • Evaluate vaccine delivery models to increase uptake 
  • Understand modern social trends on vaccine uptake and vaccine confidence. We aim to complement attitudinal tracking by UKHSA, provide in-depth insight into under-vaccinate 
  • Provide evidence to strengthen immunisation systems 
  • Exploit new technologies to increase uptake and efficiency 

To sustain trust in vaccines we will:

  • Help the NHS modernise the childhood vaccine schedule in a way that is acceptable to parents 
  • Explore and respond to public concerns about vaccines through population surveys and automated analyses of online social media 
  • Provide an in depth understanding of attitudes towards and barriers to vaccination of communities with lower uptake 
  • Support evidence-based communication about vaccines
Public and Patient Involvement and Engagement
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At the HPRU in Immunisation we have developed and refined our PPIE aims as of March 2021:

  • Our aim for public involvement is to improve the quality and relevance of research in vaccines and immunisation by the HPRU.
  • Our aim for public engagement is to raise awareness of our research at the HPRU and to share knowledge of research about vaccines.

Our PPIE activities include:

  • Presenting at ‘Pint of Science’ evenings, at ‘Science Museum Lates’, at science days in schools, Cheltenham Science Festival, Wellcome Packed lunch, and podcasts
  • Representation from our public panel at the annual advisory board meeting
  • Requesting and receiving feedback on research documents, such as study information sheets and questionnaires
  • Speaking with parents and adults about their reasons for vaccine hesitancy

Click here for a copy of our PPIE strategy document.

Recent PPIE events

Findings

Experiences of vaccinating children during the first phase of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in England and parents and guardians’ perceptions towards COVID-19 vaccination

If you would like to know more or if you have any questions, please contact our PPIE co-coordinators, Pauline Paterson & Sadie Bell 

Academic Career Development
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The ethos of our HPRU is to promote learning and facilitate the career progression of all who contribute to our research programme, which includes PhD award holders, HPRU staff and other trainees. Our main goals for the duration of our grant are to:

  1. strengthen the capacity of our dynamic multi-disciplinary team to ensure that we are equipped to address current and future public health and immunisation research priorities,
  2. engage proactively with the NIHR research infrastructure to nurture mutually beneficial research collaboration and learning partnerships with other HPRUs, ARCs and BRCs, and
  3. consolidate our contribution to the training of Public Health and General Practice registrars and students engaged in post-graduate public health related courses.

To achieve these goals, we will build on our existing internal HPRU and broader institutional teaching and learning capacity and seek to access additional training support through the NIHR Academy and the broader NIHR research infrastructure.

Academic Career Development in NIHR Infrastructure and NIHR Schools

Strategy

Group 1: PhD degree award holders

This group consists of PhD students, whose degree is funded by the HPRU and who have a training plan with a defined end date.

Ambitions

  • Provide world class doctoral training for the next cohort of public health research leaders

Group 2: HPRU Staff

This group consists of early-mid career researchers, senior investigators, and project management staff. All staff can access internal training programmes and are encouraged to complete training in teaching and doctoral supervision.  

Ambitions

  • Enhance the expertise of our existing multi-disciplinary research and project management team by signposting them to NIHR and other funding, fellowship and training opportunities suited to their stage on the academic/research or project management career pathway.
  • Give early-mid career researchers increased responsibility for designing, implementing and managing studies guided by theme leads

Group 3: Other trainees

This group consists of Public Health (PH), General Practice (GP) registrar trainees and LSHTM MSc students. We aim to facilitate placements and short-term research projects for these trainees. We also extend invitations to our public engagement events, such as our Annual Science Day, to all trainees within our network, so that they are provided with opportunities for gaining familiarity with HPRU research, networking, and presenting research project findings.

Ambitions

  • Facilitate short-term placements (defined contributions to research projects and co-authorship on manuscripts) for Public Health and General Practice trainees through: i) existing collaborations with UKHSA and NHS England immunisation teams and, ii) making connections with public health registrar training co-ordinators in London, Kent, Surrey and Sussex
  • A public-health consultant member of the HPRU (Helen McDonald) will train as a Faculty of Public Health supervisor for public health registrars.
  • Accommodate short-term dissertation related research opportunities (approx. 6-10 weeks) for LSHTM MSc students via the LSHTM Vaccine Centre and its Student liaison committee.

Objectives 

We have generic and group specific objectives. Our generic objectives focus on ensuring that information about training and career development opportunities are shared widely, strengthening and establishing research, and training collaborations across the NIHR infrastructure. Core objectives for PhD award holders are to ensure that they receive the support and guidance they need to complete their theses and plan their next career moves. Key to this will be encouraging them towards opportunities afforded through their NIHR Academy membership. The essence of the objectives for HPRU Staff is to signpost all staff to career stage appropriate training and development opportunities and identify those who would benefit from NIHR Academy membership to help them apply for fellowships or similar awards. The objectives for other trainees focus on ensuring that our HPRU is an outward facing resource which supports the development of non-HPRU public health researchers though training and research placements.

Pathways to Impact 

  • Regularly updated career development resources. HPRU team members contributing to NIHR facilitated research networks and involved in collaborative training and research activities.
  • Completion of 6 PhDs resulting in new researchers moving into roles that will make a difference to public health and starting their journeys to become future research leaders.
  • HPRU staff benefitting from general NIHR and NIHR Academy specific training and funding opportunities
  • Facilitation of PH & GP registrar trainee placements
  • Opportunities for MSc students to conduct immunisation related projects.

Collaboration

We are keen to strengthen existing and establish new research and training collaborations with HPRUs, ARCs and BRCs across the NIHR infrastructure. We also want to increase our support and engagement with Public Health and General Practice Training programmes. 

Training Opportunities 

Contact

The Academic Career Development Leads for the HPRU in Immunisation are Tracey Chantler and Helen McDonald. Please get in touch with them for more information.