If you had told Sophie Westlake this time last year that she would soon create a disinfectant to battle a virus causing a global pandemic, she would have “keeled over in laughter”.
But 2020 was as full of surprises for Ms Westlake as for anyone.
The mother of four, who lives in the southern highlands of NSW, is behind Virosol, a household product approved by the TGA as proven to kill COVID-19.
Virosol got the TGA stamp of approval in August, and it’s certified to kill 99.9 per cent of bacteria and COVID-19.
Disinfectants are an important part of addressing the risk of surface transmission of the virus. Australia’s science agency, the CSIRO, has found that the SARS-Cov-2 virus can survive on surfaces like glass and mobile phone screens for up to 28 days.
When the virus hit Australia’s shores at the start of 2020, Ms Westlake was particularly concerned.
Her husband, Steve, suffers from myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles.
He has had several lymph nodes removed from his chest, and infections have seen him hospitalised nine times in the past few years.
“Like many Australians we were in lockdown, and obviously I was very concerned about keeping my family safe during this pandemic,” Ms Westlake told AAP.
She rang around retailers, manufacturers and suppliers to find out what disinfectants they had available for household use that were proven to kill COVID-19, but had no luck.
So Ms Westlake struck off on her own.
“I was sitting on the couch and my husband and I were talking about what to do and he just looked to me said, ‘let’s just do it ourselves’,” she said.
She started researching what killed an enveloped virus, then spent six months working with an international laboratory with a Sydney outpost to ensure the product was effective in tackling COVID-19 and would get TGA approval.
While the team at the TGA was “terrific” to work with, “it wasn’t easy, I can tell you that much,” she said.
Ms Westlake’s 15-year-old daughter Emilie-Rose pitched in with marketing ideas and names suggestions.
The other kids, aged between 3 and 13, helped with ideas for bottle design and colours.
Ms Westlake ensured that every element of the product and supply chain was local, including sourcing the bottles and labels.
She also wanted it to be easy for men – so took up her husband’s advice that it just be a spray function, with no need to wipe.
Within the first few hours of launch, Ms Westlake old more than 8000 bottles of Virosol. It’s now available online and in several stores in Moss Vale, with sales peaking when outbreaks occur through the country.
Although she has a science background and runs multiple small businesses with her husband, developing a disinfectant and engaging with the TGA was completely new for Ms Westlake. But she is modest about what she’s done.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a very Aussie thing to do. I think it’s inherent in our culture. We don’t faff about. If we put our mind to it, we just do it,” she said.