Westmead Health Precinct becomes home to Australian-first research of COVID-19 vaccines

Sharon Lee, clinical trials manager, WSLHD and project lead, Professor Mark McLean, director of research, WSLHD, and Associate Professor Mark Douglas.

A leading group of experts from Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) and wider NSW will pioneer Australian-first research at the Westmead Health Precinct to investigate immune responses to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Announced by NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Vaccine, Infection and Immunology (VIIM) Collaborative Research Group will receive more than $4.5 million in funding from the NSW Government over three years to study the clinical and immunological responses to COVID-19 vaccines in NSW recipients.

The logistics of this large, exciting research study based out of the Westmead Health Precinct will inform vaccine policy in the state and beyond.

Westmead Health Precinct is the ideal site to lead this study, as we have been at the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 since the pandemic started,” said Graeme Loy, chief executive, WSLHD.

“We looked after the first patient in Australia with COVID-19 and have cared for many patients since, particularly during the first wave.”

“Researchers at Westmead Health Precinct were instrumental in developing early tests for COVID-19 and led the way in scaling up COVID testing in NSW. It’s also a key site for genomic sequencing of the virus, a crucial tool to guide contact tracing.

Associate Professor Mark Douglas.

Professor Tony Cunningham is leading this research across NSW and Associate Professor Mark Douglas is leading the Westmead Health Precinct team which includes Sharon Lee, clinical trials manager, WSLHD, as the project lead.

“We are thrilled to lead this large collaborative research project, which will help us to understand the immune response against COVID-19 and guide future vaccine development,” said Associate Professor Mark Douglas.

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said the program will boost our knowledge of COVID-19 vaccines, including their efficacy on variant strains of the virus in future years.

“With the vaccination rollout now well underway, this surveillance and real-world research will continue to arm us with timely and robust data to ensure the very best outcomes for the people of NSW, and help us navigate the path ahead,” Dr Chant said.

“It places us in a strong position and will inform a vaccine policy that can respond to emerging issues and opportunities, and the future development and trialling of next generation vaccines.

“We’re continuing to learn throughout this pandemic and this research will allow us to advise on immunisation schedules, including the potential need for any booster vaccinations for vulnerable groups and the broader community.”

Dr Chant said NSW is in a unique position to add to the global body of knowledge on vaccines and immunity since the majority of our population has not been exposed to COVID-19, unlike many other countries.

“The study is well underway at Westmead with over 40 participants enrolled so far,” said project lead Sharon Lee.

The VIIM experts in vaccines, infections and immunity hail from WSLHD, SLHD, Sydney Children’s Hospital Network, NSW Health Pathology, the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, the University of Sydney’s Marie Bashir Institute, the University of NSW, Kids Research Institute, Westmead Institute of Medical Research, the Centenary Institute and the Kirby Institute.

The grant is part of NSW’s previously announced $25 million COVID-19 priority research fund.

The Westmead Health Precinct study team of Yang Song, Jhansy Varghese, Allison Sigmund, Sophie Beard and Amy Phu have already started recruiting volunteers.

“The study is well underway at Westmead with over 40 participants enrolled so far,” said Project Lead Sharon Lee.

“We still need a further 300 participants, so if you have not yet had your Pfizer vaccine please consider volunteering for this study before you do.”

To find out more information or to register your details for the study, head here.