Vaccines, collaboration and peer review
The successful global distribution of coronavirus vaccines provides us with a practical example of the theory of action at work.
For the first time in quite a while, we have cause for optimism. Coronavirus vaccines have been approved and distributed and with them, the hope that the pandemic can be controlled to a point somewhere close to normality.
To reach this critical stage, two of the approaches we have incorporated into our theory of action of school improvement – collaboration and peer review – have played a part.
Since the advent of the pandemic a collaborative approach has been adopted by many of the key players involved – the countries, companies and researchers. Those who have not engaged have been heavily criticised and now find themselves behind the curve. Their collaboration has encompassed the sharing of the knowledge about the detection, treatment and prevention of the spread of COVID 19. The spread of recent more virulent strains has been muted because information about their nature and what provisions can be made to slow their spread has been rapidly shared.
This excellent example of collaboration has occurred because the medical profession has an approach to innovation which allows those involved to retain an open approach whilst protecting their self interest. As we like to say: “collaboration works when you can subsume your own ambitions within those of the collective”.
For example, the UK-based Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is the result of a collaboration between the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, a global, science-led biopharmaceutical business. Their collaboration extends well beyond the sharing of research to include production and distribution. The process adopted for collaboration is a self-regulating process and relates to a doctor’s Hippocratic oath.
Part of their agreed collaborative protocols for sharing of knowledge requires them to use peer review to triangulate research findings. An example of this was illustrated on December 8, 2020 when the University of Oxford published the first peer-reviewed results of phase 3 human trials of the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine. It showed that peers had agreed that it had demonstrated efficacy. Their report confirmed that the results showed¹
- An overall vaccine efficacy of 70.4 per cent from a pooled analysis of two-dose regimen
- No hospitalisations or severe disease observed in the vaccinated groups from three weeks after first dose.
The implications of these findings for everyone was game-changing. Here was the first researched-based indication ratified by peer review that confirmed the spread of the virus could be contained by this vaccine. As the vaccine was cheaper to produce, being done so without profit and easier to store, the publication of this review had considerable significance for the fight to contain the spread of the virus.
This study published in the Lancet was the first peer-reviewed publication of phase 3 data from studies of a vaccine effect against the coronavirus². The efficacy data are based on 11,636 volunteers across the United Kingdom and Brazil, and combined across three groups of people vaccinated – two groups who received a standard prime vaccination dose followed by a standard booster dose and one group (in the UK only) who received a low prime vaccination dose followed by a standard dose vaccination.
It takes time to establish these collaborative processes and protocols. It requires all involved to be role models, to be seen to share what they know and be willing to stand up to the scrutiny of their peers. It also requires a framework that protects their interests. This can range from written recognition to monetary reward.
There also needs to be publications such as the Lancet which has the capacity to sift through all the research and present it to the system as a whole in a way that meets stringent standards which are recognised by those who use the findings to shape their actions. Then the policies and actions of communities need to be based upon these findings. Sometimes this can be a slow process but they are designed to protect against error resulting from uniformed actions.
What can we learn in education from this? We are in the early years of developing collaborative learning communities, however, as our readership amongst many other indicators show, there is a desire to make it happen. For this to occur we have yet to resolve a number of issues, such as:
- For all involved to openly recognise the source of ideas
- For all involved to create a creditable means of sharing information
- Researchers who can develop detailed diagnostic tools so we can link research to the learning process of every individual
- For policy makers to devise frameworks for school systems which reconcile ownership of the system with a collaborative rather than directive approach
- For peer review to become a universally accepted component of the evaluation of school improvement
- Accountability for those who take actions not approved by peer review.
It is not possible to implement this all at once, so a strategic approach is required. We should not be overawed by this for we have made a good start on a number of these. However, to provide a brighter future for those generations of students to come we need to follow our fellow professionals in the health service and work together to complete the task.
Take care and stay safe
- Oxford University News, Oxford University, 8 December 2020
2. www.the lancet.com Published online December 8, 2020 https://doi.org/10.1 016/50140-6736(20)32661-1
Read more about peer review and its role in school improvement here.