New mums play instrumental part in world-first vaccine


Wesfarmers employee Norinda Rossi teamed up with researchers at the Telethon Kids Institute.

Wesfarmers employee Norinda Rossi is one of thousands of new mothers who have teamed up with researchers at the Telethon Kids Institute in a global bid to develop the first vaccine to prevent Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) disease.

The Maternal RSV Study is being run by the Institute’s Vaccine Trials Group as part of an international collaboration involving thousands of women from 11 countries around the world – all dedicated to finding a way to protect newborn babies from RSV when they are most vulnerable.

RSV infects the lungs and airways and is one of the most common reasons babies are admitted to hospital. The virus can be life-threatening, especially for newborn babies up to six months of age who develop severe complications such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia, and there is currently no vaccine to prevent the disease.

Professor Peter Richmond, Head of the Vaccine Trials Group at the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases (WCVID), based at the Telethon Kids Institute, said that findings from the Maternal RSV Study have the potential to impact the health of babies on a global scale for years to come.

“We believe the key to protecting babies from RSV is giving a vaccine to mothers late in pregnancy, and this will provide the necessary antibodies to build immunity during the first few months after birth, similar to the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine currently being given to expectant mothers,” said Professor Richmond.

“If we can achieve this, we can significantly reduce the number of newborns developing serious complications and being hospitalised due to this common infection in babies.”

When Aveley mum Norinda Rossi heard about the Maternal RSV Study through her midwife, she didn’t hesitate to get involved.
“I’m all for immunisations, and seeing a family member’s niece spend two weeks in Princess Margaret Hospital with bronchiolitis showed me how beneficial it would be to have a vaccine available,” said Mrs Rossi.

Mum to eight-month-old Chiara and two-year-old Luca, plus step-mum to 12-year-old Damon, Norinda was pregnant with her daughter when she became one of more than 3,000 women who have signed up to participate so far.

“It’s been a fantastic experience and I would certainly recommend it to any friends or work colleagues expecting a baby during the upcoming recruitment period – it’s great to know you are playing a part in helping other newborn babies avoid serious illnesses in the future,” said Mrs Rossi.

The Maternal RSV Study is now in its third year.

Wesfarmers and Telethon Kids Institute
Infectious diseases continue to be most common reason for hospitalisation of young children in Western Australia and the number one cause of death in children worldwide.

Recognising the enormous scope for vaccines to reduce the burden of infectious disease globally, the WCVID at the Telethon Kids Institute was established in 2014 thanks to a $5 million foundation grant from Wesfarmers. The WCVID aims to prevent and improve the treatment of infectious diseases in children and adolescents, providing all children with a healthier start to life.

In 2017, Wesfarmers committed a further $6 million over four years, providing vital funding through to 2021. This will allow the WCVID to continue to grow and become a major Australian and global centre of children’s infectious diseases research.