UCL News


New study into Covid-19 transmission and immunity launched

23 June 2020

UCL has launched Virus Watch, inviting 42,500 people to take part in one of the largest and most comprehensive studies of Covid-19 in the UK to study the next phase of the pandemic.


Participants will complete regular online symptom surveys and have the option to download a movement tracking app to understand how activities outside of the house affect risk of infection.  A subset of 10,000 will have blood tests to look for antibodies and will submit nose and throat swabs when they are ill allowing the study to assess how long antibodies provide protection against the virus for.

Lead author, Professor Andrew Hayward (UCL Epidemiology & Health Care) said: “Virus Watch is the world’s most comprehensive community study of Covid-19 and we want people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds to join. The findings will help us understand how the virus spreads through the community, why the disease disproportionately affects some groups and how our immune system protects us from disease.

“As scientists we have lots of questions that this study will help answer but we also want participants to suggest their own questions.  Covid-19 isn’t going away any time soon, as lockdown is eased and we move through the summer to prepare for what could be a very difficult winter we need to learn as much we can to prepare for future waves. With the help of tens of thousands of participants across every region of England and Wales we will answer these questions together.”

Postcards have been sent out to households inviting them to take part in the study for 12 months, with data being used to answer important questions including:

  • If we catch COVID-19, for how long are we protected from catching it again?
  • As we go back to work, which jobs are most at risk?
  • Will going back to school increase transmission?
  • When will COVID-19 peak again?
  • Who gets infected or is most susceptible to it?
  • How do the symptoms differ between adults, children and vulnerable groups?
  • Why do some people get mild illness or show no symptoms and some get seriously ill?
  • How does our immune system protect us and can this help us design effective vaccines?
  • Why are some ethnic minority groups more likely to end up in intensive care than the rest of the UK population?
  • How can we safely go about our lives and prepare for the possibility of future outbreaks?

The results generated by the study will be vital in informing government planning, public health and NHS response to Covid-19 as lockdown is eased and the UK prepares for a future of managing this pandemic. Results of the study will be regularly updated on the Virus Watch website.



Electron microscopic image of COVID-19 on the Public Health Image Library  Credit: Hannah A Bullock; Azaibi Tamin 

Media contact

Jake Hawkes

Tel: +44 (0)7747 565 056

Email: j.hawkes@ucl.ac.uk