31 August 2020

One man's quest to cure coronavirus and get life back to normal

| Michael Weaver
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Warrick Howieson

Canberran Warrick Howieson is taking part in a clinical trial for a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Michael Weaver.

Warrick Howieson’s motivation for taking part in Canberra’s first COVID-19 vaccine trial is simple: “I want to get back to life as usual. I want the world and the economy to get back to life as usual.”

An IT systems architect, Mr Howieson, 50, is one of 750 volunteers in Australia taking part in the trial, which also includes another 750 volunteers in the US. Mr Howieson is one of about 80 participants from the ACT region and while he’s an enthusiastic participant, it wasn’t his idea to put his hand up.

“My wife actually volunteered me,” he said. “She works at ANU researching potential vaccines for malaria, which still kills far more people than COVID-19.

“A vaccine is something the world desperately needs, so if I can help in some way then I’m more than happy to take part in this trial.”

While it has been more than 50 days since the last case of coronavirus was recorded in the ACT, Mr Howieson has been working from home since March and his only real connections are with his family and a running group that meets regularly to get a dose of the great outdoors.

Mr Howieson also told Region Media he would like to see members of his extended family who have been locked down in Melbourne since the second wave of the pandemic took hold there.

READ ALSO ANU supercomputer unlocking link to COVID-19 treatment

So far about 25 volunteers have been recruited for this trial being conducted in partnership between clinical research companies Paratus Clinical and Ochre Health on behalf of American vaccine development company Novavax.

The Novavax trial is being conducted in up to 18 sites in Australia and the US, including Canberra, to evaluate the safety and immune response of the vaccine candidate in adults and older adults.

Matt Clacy of Paratus Clinical in Canberra said they need between 75 and 80 volunteers for the trial. Recruitment is expected to be complete in the next two weeks. Mr Clacy said the study will take about 12 months before data is sent back to Novovax.

He said there is no risk of infection once the vaccine is injected at three intervals – day zero, three months and six months – as it is part of the genetic sequence of COVID-19 and not the actual virus.

Mr Howieson said there are also a few more reasons for taking part.

“COVID has made each day feel like groundhog day.

“I miss the connection with people at work and being able to go to work. Every day I get up and do pretty much the same thing,” he said.

“Even though we can socialise, to be able to freely go to work and go out and socialise with friends at a restaurant is what I want to get back to.”

The Novavax vaccine is one of 120 being developed across the globe, along with three other clinical trials in Australia, including one at the University of Queensland; one at Flinders University with Adelaide company Vaxine; and one being developed by international company Clover Biopharmaceuticals.

People aged 18 to 84 can volunteer for the trial, the only requirements being that you have a healthy body mass index and blood pressure. Volunteers will be split into groups who are unknowingly given different types of the potential vaccine, or a placebo. Volunteers must take the vaccine or placebo on three separate intervals and must also record details daily from an application that asks for information like their body temperature, general well being and any allergic reactions.

Federal Regional Health Minister Mark Coulton visited the clinic where some of the country’s most experienced scientists, biotech and pharmaceutical experts, and participants are taking part in Canberra’s first COVID-19 vaccine trial. He said the Government is committed to providing all Australians with access to a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine as soon as available.

“That said, there is no guarantee that this, or any other, vaccine will be successful, which is why the Australian Government is looking at options to support vaccine development both in Australia and around the world,” Mr Coulton said.

Secretary of the Department of Health Professor Brendan Murphy, who had a leading role in managing the Australian Government’s pandemic response, said the independent Therapeutic Goods Administration will apply rigorous processes in the approval of any COVID-19 vaccine before it is accessible to Australians.

To date, the Australian Government has allocated around $358 million for research into vaccines, therapeutics and COVID-19 medicines.

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