It came as the number of new cases of coronavirus being diagnosed in the capital rose to a new high over the weekend and as the number of Covid patients in London hospitals rose to the highest level in six months.
There were 15,568 cases in London in the last seven days, taking the rate to a record 173.7 per 100,000 population – up from the previous record of 158.5 last Thursday.
The number of Londoners being treated in hospital for Covid increased to 1,244, a level last seen on May 18. More than 200 patients were on ventilators.
Barts Health and Imperial College Healthcare NHS trusts today began offering 800 volunteers the Janssen vaccine.
About 400 people are being sought by each trust, with Barts aiming to vaccinate 32 a day from today at a purpose-built facility at Bethnal Green library. The Imperial vaccine centre is at Charing Cross hospital, in Hammersmith.
The Janssen vaccine, which requires two jabs 28 days apart, is the third of six in the Government’s “portfolio” of Covid vaccines to enter stage-3 trials. A total of 6,000 volunteers across the UK will be able to take part, out of 30,000 worldwide.
The Government has bought the rights to 30 million doses, alongside other vaccines such as the Pfizer jab that last week was declared to be more than 90 per cent effective in trials. If the Janssen vaccine works, it could be rolled out by the summer.
Professor Rupert Pearse, head of clinical research and development at Barts Health, told the Standard: “It’s been a very major commitment by the trust. We all feel very strongly we want the people of east London to have an opportunity to take part in these trials.
“We know there is a tendency for the opportunity to access new treatments or research to not always reach the patients most in need of them.”
The trial was deliberately set up at a remote location to avoid volunteers having to come to a hospital, to reduce the risk of spreading covid during lockdown.
Professor Pearse said: “If people turn out not to be eligible for this trial it may be that they’re eligible for the next one.”
Dr Vanessa Apea, the Black, Asian and minority ethnic “clinical champion” at NIHR Clinical Research Network North Thames, said it was vital to ensure east Londoners who were most at risk of dying or becoming severely ill from Covid were encouraged to take part.
She said: “Covid affects everyone, but it’s affected those from racially minoritised groups more severely.
“We are really mindful that a lot of people, particularly from black communities, the concern about studies is really understandable. Globally, there has been a long history of unethical medical research. People are naturally reticent and thinking: ‘Are we going to be used as guinea pics?’
“We are aware that there may be concerns. We are trying to mitigate against it. It’s never been more important, in research responding to a pandemic, in making sure all communities feel actively informed and engaged.”
Janssen, which is part of Johnson & Johnson, is the latest study in the UK, jointly funded by the UK government’s Vaccine Taskforce, to test the safety and effectiveness of a potential Covid-19 vaccine. Trials by the US biotech company Novavax and University of Oxford/AstraZeneca are currently ongoing.
Recruitment into the Janssen study will complete in March 2021 and the trial will last for 12 months.
Experts believe that a single vaccine is unlikely to suit everyone, and that having a range of vaccines can prevent supply problems and allow more people to be vaccinated quickly.
Professor Alan Winston, principal investigator of the study at Imperial, said: “We are very excited to be running this study at the newly furnished vaccine hub at Charing Cross hospital and look forward to welcoming volunteers from North West London interested in participating in the study.”
Kate Bingham, chair of the Government’s Vaccine Taskforce, said: “Many vaccines are needed both here in the UK, and globally, to ensure we can provide a safe and effective vaccine for the whole population.
“That is why the launch of this trial to establish the safety, effectiveness, and very importantly the durability, of the Janssen vaccine is so significant, and I would continue to encourage people to sign up and take part in vaccine trials.”
Dr Onkar Sahota, chair of the London Assembly health committee, said: “We are hugely indebted to the experts who are working round the clock to deliver a national vaccination programme and the many Londoners who have put themselves forward to test the vaccines. We know that Londoners want to get back to their families, friends, education and workplaces safely, and people need to be vaccinated to do that.
“Public confidence will be vital in ensuring the effective rollout of the vaccine. There’s a real responsibility on the Government, the Mayor and the NHS in debunking false information, reassuring Londoners and promoting the uptake of Covid-19 vaccines.”