SARS-CoV-2 Acquisition in Frontline Healthcare Workers - Evaluation to inform Response

Hospital transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 is a major public health concern. Evidence shows that healthcare workers (HCWs) are at high risk of developing COVID-19 while at work, and may themselves contribute to transmission in the hospital.

The SAFER study, funded by the MRC/UKRI, is structured in three inter-linked work packages aiming at answering key questions around risk of infection and correlates of protection as well as behaviours linked to risk. Within the study tracking technologies will also be assessed and behaviours towards similar technologies as well as how tracking can help decrease infections acquired in hospital will be evaluated. Last but not least the Ethics underpinning HCW research will be discussed with stakeholders and guidance on how best to conduct such studies in the future will be developed.

In the first wave, we evaluated whether 200 HCWs at UCLH, followed for 12 weeks during the first wave of COVID-19, were at risk of catching SARS-CoV-2 at work. The first month of results reported high rates (44%) of infection, and 38% of infections were asymptomatic. The study also recruited 100 HCWs in Liverpool and analysis of results is ongoing.

With SAFER-PLUS in the second wave, we have the opportunity to continue the study of transmission in the background of vaccination, continue to study HCW behaviours, movement and interactions, to help inform hospital policy towards risk reduction of transmission.

SAFER-PLUS will also answer questions around vaccination response, re-infections, response to infections by variants and correlates of protection. In SAFER-Plus we have collaborations with more in-depth studies into loss of taste and smell, mental health and wellbeing, and virus transmission to pets.

We share our results with national and international policy making bodies like SAGE, NERVTAG and WHO as well as the national SIREN HCW study, and residual samples for the Francis Crick Institute’s LEGACY cohort.