Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Gavin Grobler has kept up his morning exercise routine, running on the beach in Cottesloe, Perth.

Key points:

  • A COVID-19 vaccine trial in WA is about to start testing on older Australians
  • Younger volunteers have already received two doses of the vaccine
  • Queensland’s vaccine trial is also recruiting older people

The 62-year-old insists he is fairly fit for his age and tries to live a healthy lifestyle.

He runs a chauffeur company in Perth, but with no international or interstate visitors allowed in Western Australia, he has had some time on his hands.

“I’m sitting at home all the time without the cruise ships and aeroplanes coming in,” Mr Grobler told 7.30.

“I’m acutely aware of the lockdowns and the shutdowns.”

Now Mr Grobler has decided to volunteer to take part in a human trial of a coronavirus vaccine.

“I like to think I’m doing my little piece for society,” he said.

“I’m sure the people in America and Japan won’t even realise, but it makes you feel nice, you know?”

‘Important milestone’

Lara Hatchuel is monitoring the safety of the clinical trial.(ABC News: Marcus Alborn)

The trial is being conducted by clinical research company Linear at the Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre in Perth.

The vaccine candidate was developed by Chinese company Clover Biopharmaceuticals.

So far, a younger cohort of volunteers has received two doses of the vaccine.

Now, researchers are broadening the trial.

“This is a really important milestone,” Linear associate medical director Lara Hatchuel said.

“We are now vaccinating an older population.

A group of 55- to 75-year-old volunteers, including Mr Grobler, are now being injected with the trial vaccine.

Like the first group, the older volunteers still have to be fit and healthy but can have what are termed “stable co-morbidities” — for example someone who has chronic high blood pressure, but where the condition is manageable. 

“With that older population, they have different co-morbidities which put them at higher risk of developing a more severe COVID-19 infection,” Dr Hatchuel explained.

“It’s really crucial to be able to have a good, safe vaccine candidate to be able to vaccinate this population.

“Key things we’re looking at are safety and tolerability of the vaccination.”

Mr Grobler and the others taking part in the trial are compensated up to $2,350 for their time, with a two-year commitment.

“I’d like to go and visit [my] kids in Germany, and my mother is 86 years old in South Africa, so I’m hoping it’s not going to be two years before there’s a vaccination,” Mr Grobler said.

“This thing [COVID-19] is putting everybody onto their knees.”

Vaccine unlikely’ before Christmas: UQ

Professor Paul Young is feeling cautiously confident about the University of Queensland vaccine.(ABC News: Christopher Gillette)

A trial of a potential vaccine at the University of Queensland is also recruiting older participants.

Professor Paul Young is leading the Brisbane research team, which has the backing of global experts and is considered the most advanced trial in Australia.

Early results indicate UQ’s vaccine candidate, which uses molecular clamp technology, is safe and likely to provide protection against the virus, but researchers are still cautious.

“There is no guarantee of success,” Professor Young said.

“But I think if one had to be confident, one could be confident of this one.”

More in-depth data from the trial is due to be released in late October.

Teams around the world are working towards finding a coronavirus vaccine.(ABC News: Christopher Gillette)

Despite his team working around the clock, Professor Young says people should keep a realistic timeframe in mind as researchers around the world race to develop and safely distribute a vaccine for COVID-19.

“I think the likelihood of any vaccine being deployed before Christmas is unlikely,” he said.

“It’s dangerous to push too hard.

Professor Young supports the Government’s intent to purchase a leading international vaccine candidate, from Oxford University and Astrazeneca, for local manufacturing if trials succeed.

“I’ve said right from the very start, that this won’t be a race where there’ll be one winning vaccine,” he said.

“It’s a race by all of us in vaccine development to beat the virus, and I suspect in the end we will need multiple vaccines.”

Watch this story tonight on 7.30.


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