Covid-19 related research

#Comms UKB Community Team
#Comms UKB Community Team
  • Updated

Understanding the spread of Coronavirus

COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, was first identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It then spread globally, with the first cases identified in the UK at the end of January 2020. In this rapidly evolving pandemic, there has been an urgent need to generate epidemiological insights into the determinants, characteristics and consequences of COVID-19 to guide public health strategy. UK Biobank has helped with this research in a number of ways, including by making data on COVID-19 available to researchers, and by conducting a serology study to understand the determinants of infection and how long antibody levels persist following infection.


Serology study of SARS-CoV-2 infection

Thousands of UK Biobank participants have taken part in a major study (funded by the UK Government’s Department of Health and Social Care) to measure the extent of SARS-Cov-2 infection in different regions across the UK.

Study aims: 

  • The study has assessed the extent of infection in different population subgroups across the UK (e.g. by age, sex, region, socio-economic deprivation, ethnicity and whether they live in an urban or rural area).  
  • This information enables the assessment of infection over time, which can help with public health policy planning.  
  • These data enable better understanding on how long antibody levels persist following infection and whether this differs in different age groups. This will help to inform us about waning immunity following infection.   
  • The proportion of the population that are symptomatic can be shown, and whether this changes by age.  
  • Because in 2020 and 2021 we linked to medical records for all participants, investigation into the association between antibody levels and disease severity and whether seropositive participants go on to develop a second COVID-19 infection can be measured (and how severe this is).


  • The study started in May 2020. Participants provided regular blood samples (to measure blood antibody levels) and completed a questionnaire (to assess COVID-19 symptoms).  
  • 20,000 adults (UK Biobank participants and their children and grandchildren aged over 18) took part in order to increase representation across all ages and regions of the UK. 
  • Participants taking part received monthly collection kits for about six months, and a further sample collection one year after the first. Using a fingerprick amount of blood (about 0.5ml) using a microsampling device, participant sent samples in the post using pre-paid protective envelopes and these samples were validated under antibody testing performed by the Target Discovery Institute, the University of Oxford.


Results from the first consecutive six months

The 20,000 volunteers, a combination of existing UK Biobank participants and their children and grandchildren aged over 18, have helped to produce findings that are representative of the UK population. 

One of the most significant findings of the study so far is that 99% of participants who had tested positive for previous infection retained antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 for 3 months after being infected, and 88% did so for the first 6 months of the study. This discovery provides an early indication that the antibodies produced following natural infection may protect most people against subsequent infection for at least 6 months.

Overall in the study, 6.6% of the participants had been infected previously in May/June 2020 and this rose to 8.8% by the end of November 2020. These rates did not differ in men and women. However the rates were higher in younger people, ranging from 13.5% in those under 30 to 6.7% in those over 70. 

SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence was most common in London (12.4%) and least common in Scotland (5.5%) and highest among participants of Black ethnicity (16.3%) and lowest among those of White (8.5%) and Chinese ethnicities (7.5%).

These data will be added to the UK Biobank database and research resource, enabling scientists globally to conduct further research into how SARS-CoV-2 infection affects health over the longer-term. You can find out more about these results by watching on-demand content for a participant event we held on 17th February 2021. Please follow this link.

We asked all participants in this original study to provide another blood sample for testing for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, approximately 12 months after the last sample collection, in order to determine the persistence of antibodies over this time period. The results will be made available to approved researchers. 

Thank you to everyone taking part.

serology 6 months results.PNG

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