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Seeking Wellington whānau for $11 million international flu study

02 December 2021

Wellkiwis Lab Esr
Wellkiwis Lab Esr

Wellington households with at least one child aged under 20 are needed to join WellKiwis Household, a game-changing seven-year study led by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research from Upper Hutt, that aims to create longer lasting flu vaccines.

WellKiwis Household is the fourth in the series of studies called SHIVERS (Southern Hemisphere Influenza Research and Surveillance). Both WellKiwis Household (SHVIERS IV) and its sister study WellKiwis Infant (SHIVERS III) are aiming to find out how more effective vaccines can be developed for influenza and other viruses. The infant study looks at why a child’s first exposure to viruses triggers a strong, long lasting immunity through ‘immune imprinting’. By looking at household whānau units with at least one young person aged 19 or under, WellKiwis Household is an opportunity to understand the cause of common respiratory viruses including flu and COVID-19 among study participants, and to understand the behaviour of virus transmission within households.

Upper Hutt mother of four Jamie Martin, who is of Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Koro, Ngāti Kahungunu and Cook Islands (Aitutaki) descent, joined the ESR WellKiwis Infant study in 2020 while pregnant with her now one-year-old son. Jamie and her whānau have since joined the WellKiwis Household study, and she’s thrown her support behind the research by appearing on WellKiwis billboards, busbacks, posters, and video.

Jamie was motivated to join WellKiwis studies because all her children have had respiratory issues: “every winter, one of them is in hospital for a week. If your kid is quite a sick child, I would say you’d definitely benefit from this study”.

“I really believe the study is going to make a difference,” says Jamie.

The WellKiwis Household study needs 250 families to sign-up, including 40 Māori whānau and 20 Pacific families.

ESR virologist Dr Sue Huang is Principal Investigator for WellKiwis and director of New Zealand’s World Health Organization National Influenza Centre in Upper Hutt. Sue says research shows Māori and Pacific families would benefit greatly from the study “because they tend to carry a high burden of respiratory illness”.

“Jamie and her whānau are helping us find other Māori participants. We want to make sure we get a representative sample of the population.

“We hope our findings will lead to more effective and longer lasting flu vaccines, prevent future pandemics, and most importantly help save lives. I encourage anyone who’s interested to head to to find out more about WellKiwis Household and how to apply to join this revolutiuonary Wellington study,” says Sue.

Notes to editors

  • ESR is leading WellKiwis Household in collaboration with a range of organisations including general practices, Te Awakairangi Health Network, the Universities of Otago and Auckland, the Hutt Valley and Capital & Coast District Health Boards, Regional Public Health, the Malaghan Institute, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
  • WellKiwis Household has received $8 million USD ($11.17 million NZD) in funding as part of a large international collaboration. It is being funded by the United States National Institutes of Health (US NIH) through St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
  • Sister studies are taking place in Nicaragua and the United States of America (Los Angeles).