NCIRS is undertaking multiple research projects and our staff are working in a range of capacities to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in New South Wales (NSW) and nationally. In addition, COVID-19 related work in the region is planned to commence soon.

NSW 

We are working with NSW Health to trace COVID-19 transmission in key populations across the state. A particular focus is on schools – both students and staff – in an enhanced investigation of COVID-19 cases and contact testing. Read a report of the preliminary findings up to 21 April 2020.

Collaboration through the APPRISE network

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has provided an additional $2m funding to the Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Disease Emergencies (APPRISE) network for COVID-19 research. NCIRS Director Professor Kristine Macartney is an associate investigator in the APPRISE network. The funding will enable nine COVID-19 research projects to address critical areas of research need to benefit Australians. NCIRS is participating in two of these projects: a seroprevalence survey and first few hundred (FFX) study.

Seroprevalence survey for SARS-CoV-2

Assessing the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic by measuring those who have tested positive for the virus so far allows us to see the ‘tip of the iceberg’: seroprevalence studies will allow us to see the whole iceberg. NCIRS is co-leading a seroprevalence survey with Professor John Kaldor and his team from the Kirby Institute to understand population immunity to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, and to inform clinical and public health responses. The work will involve testing blood (serum or plasma) samples from thousands of Australians for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, as Professor Kaldor described to the Sydney Morning Herald. Serosurveys will provide information on what proportion of the population may have acquired immunity to COVID-19, and be able to track this over time. 

The Snow Medical Foundation has also provided funding to NCIRS as part of the CREID-APPRISE collaboration to expand this work.  In addition to providing more accurate information on the general spread of COVID-19 in the community across all ages, this expansion will aid in tracking and protecting priority at-risk groups and asymptomatic groups, including healthcare workers, aged care residents, older people, pregnant women and school students.

First few hundred (FFX) project

NCIRS is collaborating on an enhanced first few hundred (FFX) research study led by Professor Jodie McVernon of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. This study aims to enhance understanding of COVID-19 transmission within households.

Candidate COVID-19 vaccines

NCIRS has internationally recognised expertise in evaluating new vaccines for potential use in Australia. Our expert staff are keeping a close watch on vaccine development efforts being made nationally and globally. Visit our COVID-19 vaccine development landscape page for information on potential vaccines currently in various stages of clinical trials in Australia and globally. We will be assessing the immunogenicity, efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines when they become available. Read also the Rapid Research Information Forum (RRIF) report of the most promising vaccines for COVID-19, peer-reviewed by NCIRS Director Professor Kristine Macartney.

PAEDS surveillance of COVID-19

The Paediatric Active Enhanced Disease Surveillance (PAEDS) network is conducting surveillance of COVID-19 to support the national public health response to the pandemic and is well-placed to prospectively identify children presenting to PAEDS sites with COVID-19 infection. This includes any potential link of COVID-19 with Kawasaki Disease (KD) and Paediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome Temporally associated with SARS-COV-2 (PIMS-TS), also known as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) in the USA. Read more here.

Associated research activities 

We are undertaking research to determine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on other aspects of health, including impact of the pandemic on rates of immunisation coverage for National Immunisation program (NIP) vaccines, including 2020 influenza vaccines.  

Skilled staff deployments 

Our staff are supporting the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in various capacities at the state, national and international levels:

NSW Health

Several of our staff members have been supporting various teams in the COVID-19 Public Health Response Branch and at local Public Health Units, managing and reporting SARS-COV-2 test results for returned travellers in hotel quarantine; undertaking analysis of the hotel quarantine COVID-19 routine screening program; providing secretariat support to the Expert Panel on the Review of COVID-19 Diagnoses and COVID-19 Testing Improvements Working Group; responding to public health enquiries; and providing health response and incident management support by undertaking outbreak investigations, including COVID-19 case interviews and contact tracing.

Communicable Diseases Network of Australia

Two of our staff members, including NCIRS Director Professor Kristine Macartney, are supporting the Communicable Diseases Network of Australia (CDNA) by coordinating and providing technical input as part of the CDNA COVID-19 National Surveillance Working Party developing the National COVID-19 Surveillance Strategy, including:  

  • identifying and enhancing mechanisms for national surveillance of COVID-19 in the community, primary care and hospital settings to inform Cabinet decisions on public health measures and forward planning
  • developing COVID-19 surveillance goals, indicators and operations to enable sensitive, representative and timely measurement of hotspots of syndromic activity, health care system impacts, effects of public health measures and severity of illness.

Professor Macartney is a member of CDNA that provides national public health coordination and leadership, and supports best practice for the prevention and control of communicable diseases in Australia. CDNA is a sub-committee of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), the key decision-making committee for health emergencies. 

Read the latest statement from the AHPPC about COVID-19 here.

World Health Organization

One of our staff members is currently working as a consultant epidemiologist for the World Health Organization’s Division of Pacific Technical Support (DPS) based in Suva, Fiji, supporting COVID-19 preparedness and response activities in the region. The work involves implementing and strengthening surveillance systems in the context of COVID-19 by developing Pacific-specific guidelines, forms, advice, epidemiological analyses and conducting training sessions covering all aspects of COVID-19 surveillance, as well as other relevant syndromes such as influenza-like illness (ILI) and severe acute respiratory infection (SARI). DPS provides support to the 21 Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICs) in the region.

Another staff member was deployed through the ARM network to WPRO where they led the formulation of a regional COVID-19 surveillance strategy with corresponding tools and guidance to create country-specific plans that utilise and build on existing multi-source surveillance capabilities. They also piloted the surveillance strategy and tools in Cambodia, where they worked with the Ministry of Health and WHO country office to produce a plan to utilise and enhance community surveillance of COVID-19 in Cambodia.

Last updated August 2020