The study will track the spread of COVID-19 in the general population.
A study to determine the level of COVID-19 immunity is to be conducted by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), with initial findings expected by the start of May.
It has been designed to track the spread of COVID-19 in the general population and will help improve understanding around the current rate of infection and how many people are likely to have developed antibodies to the virus.
Up to 300,000 participants will take part over the 12 months, forming a representative sample of the UK.
Part of Pillar 4 of the government’s COVID-19 testing strategy, the study draws on the scientific expertise of the University of Oxford and the testing capabilities of data science company IQVIA UK and the National Biosample Centre in Milton Keynes.
It will add to the population data already being collected through the national surveillance programme operated by Public Health England, which has been enhanced since the end of February.
Participants will provide samples taken from self-administered nose and throat swabs and answer a few short questions during a home visit by a trained IQVIA health worker.
The swab tests will show whether or not participants currently have the virus. They will be asked to take further tests every week for the first 5 weeks, then every month for 12 months.
Swabs will be taken from all participating households, whether their members are reporting symptoms or not. A trained IQVIA nurse will take blood samples from around 1,000 households, however households where someone has symptoms of COVID-19 or is self-isolating will not give blood.
Participants will be asked to give further samples monthly for the next 12 months.
All manner of precautions to ensure the safety of participants and health workers will be taken by all those involved. GPs will notify participants of the swab test results with complete confidentiality throughout.
Professor Sarah Walker of University of Oxford Nuffield Department of Medicine said: “This is one of the largest and most important studies underway into the COVID-19 virus and will transform our understanding of the infection.”
Tim Sheppard of IQVIA UK said: “Our nursing team has 30 years’ experience of working with the NHS to support patient care. This population study is vital, time-critical work, and is another part of our global mission to better understand COVID-19 and change the course of this pandemic.”