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Kiwis could hold the clue to COVID-19

15 April 2020

Vaccine Fitwzmwmcwzmdbd0 2020
Vaccine Fitwzmwmcwzmdbd0 2020

Kiwis involved in two ESR-led influenza studies are stepping up as part of the global research effort to better understand the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two large-scale and long-term studies, SHIVERS-II and WellKiwis, will expand to include testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The studies will take swabs and blood samples from participants to identify and follow up any COVID-19 infections. 

ESR’s Principal Investigator of SHIVERS-II and WellKiwis, Dr Sue Huang says expanding the studies will help answer some crucial scientific questions.   

“Understanding the immunity and susceptibility of a population against COVID-19 is critically important to tailor public health responses appropriately,” says Dr Huang.

“The comprehensive understanding of immune responses to COVID-19 will also inform effective vaccine development and immune intervention treatment.

“Knowing the proportion of asymptomatic or mildly ill cases is important as it will help us to understand what is driving this COVID-19 pandemic,” she says.

The studies will also expand to include the full households of those interested participants to provide important information about the spread of COVID-19.

“The household is a valuable setting to understand the chain of transmission, the clinical spectrum of illness and the amount and duration of virus being shed from infected individuals.

“This will inform public health measures in reducing the impact of the infection,” says Dr Huang.

The two studies follow Wellington adults and children over a number of years.  SHIVERS-II focuses on adults’ immune responses to the flu and flu vaccinations, while WellKiwis follows new-born babies to better understand how their first flu exposure influences their ongoing immune responses to influenza.

“Globally there are very few studies of this kind.  By taking part in these studies the participants are providing unique platforms for comprehensive understanding of immune responses during the COVID-19 infection,” says Dr Huang.


The expansion of SHIVERS-II and WellKiwis to include COVID-19 is being led by Dr Sue Huang of ESR and a team based at ESR’s National Influenza Centre at the National Centre for Biosecurity and Infectious Diseases.  It is a multi-agency and multi-disciplinary collaboration, including ESR, Capital Coast and Hutt Valley District Health Boards, the Universities of Auckland and Otago, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, participating Wellington general practices and leading maternity carers in the Wellington region.

The SHIVERS-II and WellKiwis studies are part of the international collaboration with sister sites in Los Angeles and Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.  Supported by the US-National Institute of Health, the international collaboration is being led by St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee with 12 other research centres in the US, New Zealand, Australia and Nicaragua.