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A multi-site project, called ‘What’s the STORY?’ has received funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to assess novel coronavirus infection rates in children and teenagers across the UK. Given the importance of this study to the national Covid-19 response it has been deemed a priority study for the National Institute for Health Research’s (NIHR) Urgent Public Health Response.

The team, led by Professor Matthew Snape from the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford, aims to determine how many children and teenagers have been infected with Covid-19, and what proportion of those have had symptoms. The research will also determine how many children and teenagers have not yet been infected and may remain susceptible to Covid-19 when lockdown measures are relaxed. 

Professor Matthew Snape, Chief Investigator on the study, said:

“To understand the current coronavirus pandemic, we need to work out how many people are becoming infected without showing any symptoms.”

‘What’s the STORY?’ was set up in 2019 as a pilot study to evaluate the UK immunisation programme, but it has now been adapted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This new funding allows the project to expand to include new study sites and recruit an additional 1200 children and teenagers (aged 0-19 years) from across England. The team will also test samples already collected and these data, along with medical histories of Covid-19 symptoms, will provide valuable information into the levels of virus circulating in this segment of the population.

Professor Snape continues:

“With this study we will systematically study the proportion of children and teenagers with immunity against this virus during the course of the pandemic.”

Understanding the prevalence of Covid-19 in the community is vital to supporting public health in response to the pandemic, including in children and teenagers, who are mostly spared the worst of the disease but could be spreading the disease to others. 

Professor Snape concludes:

“This information is vital to informing public policy about how to best manage this devastating outbreak.”

‘What’s the STORY?’ is an ongoing research study led by Oxford Vaccine Group in collaboration with Public Health England (PHE) and a network of clinical sites in Bradford, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Southampton and St George’s, London.

A key aspect of this project is the need to assess a representative cohort of children and young people, in order to give an accurate “snapshot” of the wider population. The study team are keen to engage a range of individuals and must ensure that the group tested is not biased towards people who think they may have been infected with Covid-19, and for this reason, the study team will not provide test results to participants. 

Existing sites are primarily recruiting through mail out by invitation letters to selected postcodes, and eligible individuals from the catchment areas of each study site have been or will soon be contacted with information about the project. However broader recruitment to new sites is expected to open within the next few weeks, and updates will be available on the study website: whatsthestory.web.ox.ac.uk.