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As the Health Data Research Hub for Respiratory Health, BREATHE has played a vital role in supporting the UK’s COVID-19 pandemic response.

Find out how our rapid activity early in the pandemic has helped shape national and international decisions, and continues to impact decisions today.

Early tracking of COVID-19 spread

In the early stages of the pandemic, over 2 million people from across the UK were voluntarily tracking their daily health and potential COVID-19 symptoms through an app developed by health science company ZOE and King’s College London. At the time, this was one of the only population-based sources of data on the geographical distribution of COVID-19 across the UK – bringing vital opportunities to inform care and planning.

With hotspots of the virus appearing across the country, BREATHE joined forces with King’s College London and ZOE to enable the ethical and safe use of app data by other researchers and decision-making bodies.

Working with Trusted Research Environment, SAIL Databank, BREATHE was able to provide – at speed – a platform to receive, curate, and provide secure access to data for a diverse range of stakeholders including government COVID-19 bodies, NHS Trusts, local authorities, public health agencies, and academic groups across the UK.

BREATHE was also able to anonymously link app data with NHS records for nearly 100,000 Welsh participants. This allowed parallel analysis of the app data with healthcare records and supported the modelling of COVID-19 prevalence.

First national estimates on vaccine effectiveness

Also established early on in the pandemic, BREATHE supports the delivery of EAVE II (Early Pandemic Evaluation and Enhanced Surveillance of COVID-19) – the world’s first end-to-end national COVID-19 surveillance platform.

Covering 5.4 million people (99% of the Scottish population), EAVE II links data from general practices to testing, vaccination, hospitalisation, intensive care unit, and mortality data – providing a vital insight into the spread of COVID-19 across Scotland in near real time, and a means of measuring the effectiveness of interventions like vaccines.

Regular reports and analyses of EAVE II data are shared with the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), governments and the World Health Organization (WHO), leading to breakthroughs informing policies in the UK and across the globe.

In early 2021, the team reported on the success of the vaccination roll out in substantially reducing the risk of COVID-19 hospital admissions in Scotland – providing the first national estimates on vaccine effectiveness.

Subsequent studies have investigated the links between vaccines and blood disorders, the long-term efficacy of vaccines, and the risk of COVID-19 hospitalisation in school-aged children with asthma.

Building on the BREATHE-enabled EAVE II vaccine effectiveness work, we are also supporting ongoing efforts to replicate the platform across England, Northern Ireland and Wales, working closely with the respective national public health agencies. Data and Connectivity Vaccines Pharmacovigilance (DaC-VaP) brings together vaccine data linked to routinely collected data from general practices, hospitals, death registries, and laboratory tests in the four UK nations.

BREATHE activity has been fundamental in delivering the insights needed to inform the national COVID-19 response, and will remain a crucial source of expertise as we continue to manage the emergence of new variants.

The EAVE II study is led by BREATHE Director, Professor Aziz Sheikh, at the University of Edinburgh. Visit the EAVE II website.

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