As the race for COVID-19 cure gathers further pace in Bradford and having witnessed the devastating impact of the virus first-hand, a Bradford mum is urging Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) residents across the district to take part in the trials.

Saira Ali, 50, from Saltaire, is among the 500 volunteers currently taking part in vaccine trials at the University of Bradford, and this week she had her second and final dose as part of the research.

Now, as the city prepares to play host for the next round of research trials to find a cure for COVID-19, she has shared her story in the hope that it will encourage more vaccine volunteers from Bradford’s BAME community to follow in her footsteps and sign up.

Tragically, Ms Ali has known several people living in the district who have died as a result of the virus and has seen the impacts of the virus first hand when her husband Zulfi Karim DL, President of Bradford Council for Mosques was critically ill in March with COVID-19.

“When he became gravely ill with the virus, it was a really harrowing time for the whole family. Without the skills and support of all the health professionals at the hospital as well as our friends who are doctors, I truly do not know whether he would have survived,” Saira said.

The landscape architect and team leader of the Landscape Design and Conservation Team at Bradford Council told Asian Sunday: “Eight months on, he is still suffering every day from the lasting effects of this terrible virus – a victim of a condition which medics call ‘long COVID’.

“It is a long journey, and he may not ever fully recover to the level of health he had before. Yet he is one of the lucky ones.

“Too many people I know, particularly from our BAME community, have lost their lives to COVID-19.

“So, becoming a vaccine volunteer is just one of the ways I have tried to pay tribute to them, and prevent other friends and family members falling victim to this devastating pandemic.”

The University of Bradford started hosting one of the world’s first mass Covid-19 vaccine trials.

US biotechnology company Novavax is working with Bradford Institute for Health Research (BIHR), part of the Bradford Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. (BTHFT) and began trials early October 2020 at the University’s Digital Health Enterprise Zone (DHEZ).

Some 500 people have joined Saira in taking part in the first round of this research – now a further 200 volunteers are being invited to participate in round two of it.

Volunteers are given two doses of the vaccine, one on their first day and a second on day 21. They will then be monitored for 12 months. A total of 10,000 people are expected to take part in the ‘Phase 3’ trial, including at other sites, across the UK.

When the announcement for trials was made Saira recalls: “I had no second thoughts about putting my name down and playing a small part in this inaugural study – and I’ve been supported and kept informed every step of the way.

“It’s been a really positive experience from logging on to the recruitment website to have the final dose. I now can’t wait to see if I have been able to make a difference.

“The fact that Bradford is at the international forefront of this research fills me with great pride too.”

Visiting Honorary Professor at the University of Bradford, Dr Dinesh Saralaya, who is a Consultant Respiratory Physician at BTHFT, said: “This is great news for Bradford and it is of great prestige that we are using the University. This is the first mass Covid vaccine trial in West Yorkshire and we will be one of the first centres of 16 to be initiated.”

He added: “We have seen thousands of people sign up as volunteers but only a small proportion of those are from black, Asian, minority, ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. We are making great efforts to try and recruit more people from these groups and would like to appeal for more to sign up.”

Pioneering vaccine trials involving other global pharmaceutical companies are also expected to begin in Bradford in coming months, underlining the need for more volunteers to continue to sign up and take part. Find out how you can become a Bradford vaccine volunteer here: