The power of preprints: an omicron case study

Much has been recently been written about the value of preprints which facilitate rapid and open dissemination of research findings to a global audience (if you’d like to read more about the rise of preprints in the life sciences I would recommend this editorial published in Nature Cancer). However, much of the discourse surrounding the benefits of preprints has been anecdotal. Of course sharing research findings early is a good thing, but what actual impact can a preprint have?

We present here a mini case study which highlights the initial effects of sharing a topical preprint during a pandemic. I plan to track the preprint over the next few months to see how this will translate into future publications.

Case Study: the EAVE II project

There were various headlines in the media on 22 and 23 December which reported the the discovery that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 appears to be much milder than Delta. This news was prompted by research from the EAVE II study carried out at the Usher Institute. The EAVE II team only finished their analysis on 22 December and were very keen to get their results out in a transparent manner as part of a media briefing they had agreed to do later that day.

Our Scholarly Communications Team helped the EAVE II project to post the results in the University of Edinburgh’s repository as a preprint. Subsequently, the University’s Press Office contacted us to say that this was initially beneficial when the world’s media contacted them to request the underlying data. The preprint is available here:

The reaction was quick as the preprint was picked up and reported by the mainstream media like the BBC (this article in the BBC Science Focus Magazine is a good read), and also specialised services like the Science Media Centre:

expert reaction to preprint on the severity of the omicron variant and vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic infection in Scotland, from the EAVE II study

Various national advisory groups (e.g Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) were then quickly able to read the research and fold it into their evolving guidance on boosters.

To date the preprint has 22,535 downloads, of which the majority were within the final week of December 2021. 21, 005 downloads in 10 days – that sure is RAPID communication!

If the EAVE II project team had sat on their results and waited for publication in a traditional journal article then all of this activity would have been not possible. I’m extremely interested to see what happens next to the publication.


At the moment I mainly have many questions that I don’t have the answer for. Will this piece of research be submitted for publication in a journal? Publication in a journal and the peer review process will add validation of the results and subsequent kudos from basking in the reflected glow of an esteemed journal title and possibly good citation metrics. But how can the value of preprints be more widely recognised and rewarded? For me, this is a missing part of the process. Or, perhaps the benefit of rapid communication is good enough?