OVPRI Human Subject Research Protection Blog

The VCU Human Research Protection Program is dedicated to facilitating ethically and scientifically sound research through robust review of research projects and through effective education and outreach to the VCU research community.

Dear Members of the VCU Research Community,

As we respond to the rising number of local COVID-19 cases, the HRPP is reissuing the following guidance:

1. Continue to work with your Department Chairs, Deans, Building Managers, Human Resource Representatives, and the facility where your research takes place regarding the study’s approvals and permissions for building access and the return of research staff to campus.

Studies reviewed by external IRBs continue to be subject (as applicable) to VCU and VCU Health’s institutional requirements related to staffing and building safety. External IRB studies must also follow their reviewing IRB’s policies and procedures for prospectively submitting amendments for any changes in procedures and communicating with the reviewing IRB about COVID plans and pausing study activities

2. Monitor your email for communications from the Office of the Vice President of Research and Innovation, the HRPP, and from the facility where your research is carried out. We know that things can change quickly as the COVID-19 situation evolves, so stay informed.

  • Clinical research studies can visit the VCUHS clinical research intranet page at intranet.vcuhealth.org for the most up-to-date information about VCU Health’s status.
  • All investigators can visit the VCU webpage for more information: https://together.vcu.edu/ 

3.  Log a public comment to the IRB if your study chooses (or is required) to pause research activities. This keeps the IRB informed and provides written documentation for your study team about the conduct of the study.

4.   Identify whether your study already has an IRB-approved COVID-19 Contingency Protocol that outlines temporary adjustments to research procedures in response to COVID, and familiarize yourself with what those procedures are.

Here are instructions of what to do in several of the most common scenarios:

  • If your study already has and is following an IRB-approved COVID-19 Contingency Protocol:
    • Great – you’re prepared and will hopefully be able to continue your remote procedures with minimal impact if the COVID-19 situation changes.
  • If your study is currently following the study’s approved smartform/protocol and needs to switch back to following the study’s IRB-approved COVID-19 Contingency Protocol:
    • Log a public comment to notify the IRB that you are doing this.
  • If a COVID-19 Contingency Protocol is already IRB-approved but requires changes:
    • Plan ahead for the potential need to submit an amendment for IRB review.  Think about if you will need to use electronic consent or remote data collection procedures.
    • Incorporate all changes to the existing COVID-19 Contingency Protocol Form (don’t fill out a new document or delete information).
    • Submit the updated version of the document in an amendment using the instructions outlined in this blog post.

5.   If your study does NOT currently have an IRB-approved COVID-19 Contingency Protocol, the IRB will expect the study to continue following the approved smartform/protocol procedures or to pause research activities that can no longer be carried out due to COVID.

Here are instructions of what to do in several of the most common scenarios:

  • If following your IRB-approved smartform/protocol becomes impossible due to COVID-19 restrictions:
    • Log a public comment to the IRB if you choose (or are required) to pause research activities. This keeps the IRB informed and provides documentation for the study team about the conduct of the study.
  • If you need to make any changes to your IRB-approved smartform/protocol to be able to continue research:
    • Plan ahead for the potential need to submit an amendment for IRB review.
    • As a reminder for VCU expedited and full board research, federal regulations require that modifications to research activities not be initiated without prior IRB review and approval, except when necessary to eliminate apparent immediate hazards to subjects (in which case the investigator must promptly submit a report to the IRB) (WPP VII-6). 

6.   Report to the IRB any unanticipated problems involving risk to subjects or others that occur. External IRB studies should check their reviewing IRB’s policies.

  • Investigators are responsible for taking any actions necessary to ensure the ongoing safety of research participants.
  • To report an unanticipated problem involving risk to subjects or others to the IRB:
    • Follow the normal procedure for submitting the Report within RAMS-IRB. For guidance on what constitutes an unanticipated problem, refer to WPP VII-6
  • To seek guidance regarding an unanticipated problem or any emergency situation: Call 804-828-0868 and leave a message, including a phone number where you can be reached. Messages will be checked daily, and your call will be returned.

We are continuing to monitor the impact COVID-19 is having on researchers, and we are prepared to support our investigators if new restrictions are put in place

Warm Regards,


Categories IRB Members, News and Updates
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