SCOPI: COVID-19 antibody research study

The HSE and the UCD National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL) are carrying out a study into coronavirus (COVID-19) infection. It will be coordinated by a team in the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).

Who is taking part

Only people who have been invited by the HSE can take part in the study. We are not looking for volunteers.

If you have been invited, you will have received a letter from us.

View copies of the invitation letter in other languages.

Read an easy read version of this content in PDF format for people with learning difficulties.

Why we are doing this study

The main aim is to find out how widely coronavirus has spread in Ireland and what age groups are affected.

Because coronavirus is a new virus there are many things we don’t know about it. We have been testing people who are ill and we have been counting the number of people infected.

But we don’t know how many people may have either:

  • had the virus but were never tested
  • only had a mild illness or no symptoms and did not know they had the virus

The study will help us to better understand the spread of coronavirus and what we need to do to control it. It will help to decide on vaccination programmes, when a vaccine becomes available.

How we recruit people

We have invited several thousand people between the ages of 12 to 69 years in Dublin and Sligo to take part. These were chosen because Dublin has a high number of cases and Sligo has a smaller number.

They have been randomly selected from the HSE Primary Care Reimbursement Service (PCRS) database.

This database includes a record of all people on the following schemes:

  • Medical Card Scheme
  • GP Visit Card Scheme
  • Drugs Payment Scheme
  • Long-term Illness Scheme
  • Dental Treatment Services Scheme
  • Community Ophthalmic Services Scheme
  • Domiciliary Care Allowance
  • Carer's Allowance

Taking part in the study is voluntary. We will need written consent. People taking part will have the right to withdraw consent at any time.

What is involved in taking part

The study involves:

  • answering a questionnaire over the phone - this takes about 5 to 10 minutes
  • having a blood test at a local centre to test for coronavirus antibodies

Who is not eligible for the blood test part of the study

You will not be able to do the blood test part of the study if, at the time of your test, you:

  • have been advised to cocoon
  • have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the 14 days before your test and you are still isolating at home
  • have symptoms of coronavirus
  • are restricting your movements because you have recently been a close contact of someone with coronavirus

If you are not eligible for the blood test, you can still do the phone questionnaire.

Children and young people

Children and young people 12 years of age or older are included, if they wish to take part and understand what is involved.

There haven't been many infections diagnosed in children and young people. But they may have been infected and might not show any symptoms. We want to test this group to see if this is true.

The young person and their parent or guardian must consent to them taking part in the study.

If you agree to take part

If you have been invited and you wish to take part, let us know as soon as possible.

You can do this by following the instructions in your invitation letter.

We will phone you within 5 working days to complete the questionnaire and arrange a time for the blood test.

If you do not agree to take part

It would be helpful if you could let us know if you do not wish to take part.

You can do this by following the instructions in your invitation letter.

The blood test

The blood test is to check if you have coronavirus antibodies in your blood. Antibodies are part of your body's defence. They are created when you've been exposed to an infection.

To check for antibodies, we take a 10ml blood sample.

The blood test will be in a local centre with a specially trained nurse.

Blood tests will not be done in a place where people are:

  • receiving care for a coronavirus infection
  • suspected of having coronavirus
  • being tested for coronavirus

Social distancing measures will be in place.

We will ask most people to come for only one blood test. But we will invite some people who test positive for the antibodies to return for 3 more blood tests. These would be done over the following 12 months to see what happens to your antibody level over time. You do not have to agree to these other tests if you don’t want to.

We will refund any travel expenses.

What happens to your blood sample

We will send your blood sample to the NVRL. They will test it for coronavirus antibodies.

The sample will be stored in the NVRL until the end of the study in July 2023. After this time, it will be destroyed. It will only be used for research related to antibodies to the coronavirus by this study’s research team.

Your blood test results

We will ask you if you want to get the result of your blood test.

If you do, we will send you a letter to tell you whether or not antibodies have been found in your blood sample. We will also inform your GP, if you agree to this.

You will receive your result by post in about 6 weeks after the test.

As this is a new disease the tests for it are also new. It is still not clear exactly what the results mean for people. This is not a test to diagnose if you have a coronavirus infection at that time. It is a test to help us to estimate the number of people who were previously infected.

If antibodies are not found

If antibodies to the coronavirus are not found, it may mean that you have:

  • never been infected – this is the most likely explanation
  • been infected but had a mild infection and have a level of antibody in your blood that the test can't detect

If antibodies are found

If antibodies are found, it is a sign that you were infected at some time. Because it's a new disease and the tests for it are new, we don’t know if this will protect you from being infected again.

Your result does not mean that you are immune to coronavirus.

Keep following the recommended social distancing and hygiene measures. You could get sick with coronavirus again or infect someone else.

What information we collect

We collect the following personal details:

  • name
  • address
  • date of birth
  • sex
  • phone number
  • email address
  • occupation
  • ethnicity
  • your GP's name and address

We will also ask you some coronavirus-related questions, for example, if you have ever:

  • been diagnosed with coronavirus
  • had any symptoms of coronavirus
  • had contact with a someone you know had coronavirus

How we use and store your information

The only people who will see your information are members of the research team in the:

  • HSE
  • HPSC
  • NVRL

We will only send your blood test results to your GP if you agree to this.

Data protection

Only the information necessary for the study will be kept in a secure database in the HPSC. This will be in compliance with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018.

Data in the NVRL will be held in compliance with the NVRL Data Protection Policy and GDPR.

Your records in the study are not linked to any other records in other databases and registers.

How long we keep your information

We will only keep your personal information for as long as we need it for this study which will be completed by July 2023. After this time, we will delete your name, address and anything that could identify you.

Approval for the study

The study plan has been approved by the National Research Ethics Committee. This was set up by the government to approve research on coronavirus.

What we do with the study results

It will not be possible for anyone who takes part to be identified in reports produced from the study.

We will share the results with the coronavirus team in the Department of Health. This will help with decisions about how to control the spread of the virus.

We will also share anonymised results with the World Health Organization. This will help to add to worldwide knowledge on the spread of coronavirus.

A report with the results will be available on the HSE and HPSC websites and in the media. It will be available when we have analysed all the information.

The results will not identify any individuals.

Invitation letter in other languages

Download a copy of the invitation letter for adults in:

Download a copy of the invitation letter for under 18s in:

Easy read booklet

Download an easy read version of this content for people with learning difficulties (PDF, 1.17MB, 17 pages).