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Can your family help Wellington scientists develop better vaccines?

The game changing WellKiwis Infant study led by ESR experts needs to recruit more Wellington whānau that could hold the key to developing longer lasting vaccines – especially from the region’s Māori, Pacific, and Asian communities.

Having moved to Wellington, Bing and Quinn Ho were quick to join WellKiwis after hearing about the study from Bing’s midwife, when Bing was pregnant with Patrick. Joining WellKiwis made sense to the Hos, as many members of Quinn’s family have studied and work in medical fields. 

“We strongly believe in the importance of having good data to come up with better vaccination for children of all ages, and from all ethnic backgrounds. Everyone wants their children to grow up to be healthy, so we thought if we can help WellKiwis produce a better, longer lasting and more targeted vaccine for children, it would benefit many parents in New Zealand and around the world.

“When we were deciding what to do with our son Patrick’s cord blood, we found donating it to WellKiwis was the best option, not only as our it would help support the WellKiwis study that’s set to benefit many people but because we can tell him that he’s done a good deed as soon as he came to this world,” says Quinn.

Patrick is among over 450 young children who comprise the WellKiwis Infant study. It’s aiming to find out how more effective vaccines can be developed for influenza and other viruses by looking at why a child's first exposure to viruses produces a strong, long-lasting immunity through 'immune imprinting' when they subsequently encounter similar viruses again. The study is seeking to enrol more pregnant mothers so the recruitment target of 600 babies can be reached.

For the Ho family, one of the best aspects of WellKiwis is how well supported the family has been since signing-up. The idea of having a young child’s blood drawn can be daunting, but the Hos say the caring WellKiwis clinical team put the family’s minds at rest. The professionalism of the team’s members (Tineke Jennings, Leigh Emmerton, Esme McKay, Emma O'Rourke, Jort Cuerto and Megan Rensburg) was recognised in December 2021 when they received a prestigious 2DHB Excellence in Innovation, Improvement and Future Thinking Award.

The Award was presented by Wellington's Hutt Valley and Capital & Coast District Health Boards during the Ngā Tohu Angitu 2021 | Celebrating Success Awards. The commendation the WellKiwis clinical team members received highlights how they deliver ‘influenza and COVID-19 research in a participant-centred way […] providing education and support to all the participants in the community’, while underscoring that ‘participants find having a nurse on the end of the phone or visiting their home reassuring when their child or baby is unwell’.

Indeed, Quinn says being part of WellKiwis is “like having a dedicated team looking after us. Patrick has had his fair share of sicknesses since going to childcare, and when he contracted RSV, the WellKiwis nurse who came to take his blood sample was the first to recognise he had RSV.”

The swab sample confirmed this, which helped the Hos take appropriate measures early to prevent Patrick’s condition from getting worse. To anyone thinking about enrolling their child in WellKiwis, Quinn’s advice is “give it a go. Let’s save the world together one jab at a time.”

WellKiwis Principal Investigator Dr Sue Huang says the study is privileged to be taking place in Wellington with its excellent health infrastructure and relatively compact geography. But above all, the study needs to include more people from Māori, Pacific and Asian communities.

“This ensures the data we collect is representative of our diverse communities. While the study’s meeting its overall recruitment targets, we would love to welcome more Māori, Pacific and Asian families to the study to ensure WellKiwis truly reflects the diversity of our region.

“I really encourage anyone who’s interested to head to wellkiwis.co.nz to find out more about WellKiwis Infant and how to apply to join this revolutionary local study. Or you can email our friendly team: wellkiwis@esr.cri.nz.

“Together we can develop more effective and longer lasting flu vaccines, prevent future pandemics, and most importantly help save lives,” says Sue.

For her sizable contribution to advancing public health through science, Sue was appointed Honorary Professor by the University of Auckland in December 2021.

Honorary Professor Sue Huang outside ESR's Wallaceville Science Centre in Upper Hutt

Excellence in Innovation, Improvement and Future Thinking Award

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WellKiwis Ho Family 2022

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David Brown
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