Professor Robin Shattock and a researcher look at samples in the lab

Imperial's impact in the pandemic

Since the SARS-CoV-2 virus first emerged in 2019, Imperial College London has been at the forefront of the global response to COVID-19, from modelling disease spread to major trials on treatments and new vaccine technology.

Our work has helped to inform governments, policymakers and healthcare services, shaping pandemic strategies around the world.

In 2021, Imperial was awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize, the highest national Honour awarded in UK further and higher education, for our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Find out more about some of our world-leading COVID-19 work

Modelling and Epidemiology

The Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team, led by Professor Neil Ferguson, worked with scientists, governments and public health agencies around the world to help them plan their responses to the pandemic, with influential reports on outbreak size, severity, and the impact of interventions.

Professor Robin Shattock discussing research with his team

Advancing vaccine technology

Professor Robin Shattock and colleagues in the Department of Infectious Disease worked to develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine using their innovative, self-amplifying RNA technology. Imperial is now working to further develop these types of vaccines to tackle a range of diseases. Imperial researchers were also involved in trials of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

Community infection and immunity

The REACT programme was one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive COVID-19 monitoring studies, led by researchers at Imperial College London in partnership with Ipsos MORI, and commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care. The programme used home testing to track the progress of England’s epidemic, helping to inform Government decision-making.

Human Challenge Trials

Imperial College London ran the world’s first human challenge study for COVID-19, which saw healthy volunteers intentionally infected with the virus so scientists could study how infection progressed in a carefully controlled environment. The study revealed key insights, including how early on after encountering the virus people become infectious (and how long for), and whether they shed most virus particles from the nose or mouth.

Identifying effective treatments

Over the course of the pandemic, the REMAP-CAP trial evaluated combinations of treatments in some of the sickest patients hospitalised with COVID-19. Insights included showing how hydrocortisone could improve the recovery of critically ill patients, and highlighting the effectiveness of two further treatments (tocilizumab and sarilumab) for treating hospitalised patients with severe COVID-19.

Severe illness insights

The International Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Consortium (ISARIC4C), the largest study of its type anywhere in the World, has been gathering data from more than 66,000 patients with COVID-19 admitted to 166 hospitals throughout the UK. Imperial’s Professor Peter Openshaw is one of three researchers leading this work. The project looks to explore effective diagnosis; who is at higher risk of severe illness and why; the effects of different treatments; and what role the immune system has in protection and, potentially, in causing harm.

Children and COVID-19

Researchers from Imperial were among the first to identify a new inflammatory syndrome in young children linked to COVID-19, which was similar to Kawasaki disease. They subsequently led work to identify the main symptoms and clinical markers of the new syndrome, called PIMS-TS.

Immune responses to COVID-19

Experts at Imperial have been at the forefront of investigating the immune system’s responses to infection with COVID-19. These include how prior infection with different variants of SARS-CoV-2 affects the immune system’s response to being re-infected, the impact of prior infection on the effectiveness of vaccines, and the effects of COVID-19 on those who are immunosuppressed.

Responding to emerging variants

Imperial researchers are leading a consortium of UK virologists to study the effects of emerging mutations in SARS-CoV-2. The ‘G2P-UK’ National Virology Consortium looks at how mutations in the pandemic virus affect how transmissible it is and the severity of COVID-19 it causes. It also explores how mutations could affect the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments. government policy.

Testing the transport network

During the pandemic, researchers from Imperial worked with Transport for London to regularly test the city’s transport network for the virus which causes COVID-19, while also sampling the environment at four major railway stations in the UK.

Additional blocks

Monitoring wastewater

An Imperial project has been modelling the SARS-CoV-2 virus in raw sewage, helping to map the prevalence of COVID-19 in humans and potential animal hosts, and assessing the potential for the disease to be transmitted via wastewater.

Low-cost ventilators

During the pandemic, a multidisciplinary team at Imperial College London invented a low-cost, high-performance emergency ventilator to help patients with coronavirus. The creators of the designs now hope that their promising technology will help to address the shortage of mechanical ventilators in developing countries in the long term.

How long are people infectious?

An Imperial College London study provided the first real-world evidence of how long people with COVID-19 are infectious for and when they can safely leave isolation. It also provided insights into transmission routes of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including how it can be transmitted within the home through contaminated surfaces.

Rapidly developing new tests

DnaNudge, an Imperial startup headquartered in White City, developed a lab-free, rapid and reliable PCR test, which delivers results in under 90 minutes. In 2020 they were rolled out nationally in urgent care and elective surgery settings after the UK Government placed a £161 million order for 5.8 million test kits to be used in NHS hospitals.

The pandemic divide

Research from Imperial College Business School helped demonstrate how the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities, hitting people on lower incomes and those from ethnic minority backgrounds hardest.

Mental health impacts

The global pandemic has had a huge impact on mental health, including among children and young people. Imperial researchers have been exploring the impact of COVID-19 on several aspects of mental health, including young people’s mental health and eating behaviours, severe health anxiety around COVID-19, and the psychosocial impact of the pandemic on NHS and social care workers.

Understanding long COVID

For a proportion of people, COVID-19 can cause lasting symptoms months after the initial infection. Imperial researchers are at the forefront of efforts to understand why this happens and how we can tackle lasting symptoms. The REACT Long COVID project is following up over 120,000 people and other Imperial projects are looking at areas including the mechanisms underpinning Long COVID and its symptoms, treating and supporting people living with Long COVID, developing a unified approach to measuring improvement in Long Covid patients, and the disease’s cognitive impact.

Beyond COVID-19

In September 2022, Imperial’s Jameel Institute announced the creation of the Jameel Institute-Kenneth C. Griffin Initiative for the Economics of Pandemic Preparedness. This will use pioneering integrated economic-epidemiological modelling to provide critical data and analysis to inform public health decisions related to pandemic preparedness and disease outbreaks around the world.