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.


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 seroprevalance survey and first few hundred (FFX) study.

Seroprevalence survey for SARS-CoV2

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 of 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.

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, and will be assessing the immunogenicity, efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines when they become available. Read 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 being deployed with Australian and regional health agencies to provide expertise and additional resources to expand capabilities during the pandemic. These agencies include, among others, NSW Health and the World Health Organization Western Pacific Regional Office.     

In addition, our director Professor Kristine Macartney is a member of the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (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.

Last updated May 2020