Expert alliance to support improved immunisation in Indo-Pacific

2 September 2020
Preparing the Pacific against infectious diseases
University of Sydney researchers will be at the forefront of ensuring equitable access and support to vaccine programs across the Indo-pacific. Professor Kristine Macartney will lead the DFAT-funded program.

A team of Australia’s leading immunisation and infectious disease experts, including from the University of Sydney, have been brought together in an alliance to strengthen immunisation efforts and ensure equitable access to vaccines across the Pacific.  

This includes making sure some of our nearest neighbours are ready for the potential introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Over the next three years, the Australian Regional Immunisation Alliance (ARIA), a consortium of more than 20 researchers will work with organisations including the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, to support immunisation programs in the Pacific region starting with Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea followed by other Pacific Island countries.

The WHO currently estimates immunisation coverage rates are as low as 24 percent in some countries in the Western Pacific region, risking outbreaks of serious vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, polio and diphtheria.

We see a critical need for better and more equitable vaccine-preventable disease control across our region.
Professor Kristine Macartney, Chair of the Alliance

The partnership is funded by a $3 million grant from the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The program will be coordinated by the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS).

Notably, a number of ARIA experts are members of peak global advisory groups to WHO and other health organisations on COVID-19 vaccines.

University of Sydney affiliated researchers include Professor Kristine Macartney, Associate Professor Nicholas Wood, Professor Julie Leask , Professor Peter McIntrye, Dr Aditi Dey, Dr Kerrie Wiley, Michael Wong, Cyra Patel and Julia Maguire.

Professor Kristine Macartney from the University of Sydney, Director of NCRIS and Chair of the Alliance said ARIA seeks to work collaboratively in support of a common goal.

“We see a critical need for better and more equitable vaccine-preventable disease control across our region.”

“A number of our nearest neighbours have suffered outbreaks of measles, polio and diphtheria in recent years and are now experiencing real challenges in the delivery of routine immunisation programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic; they are also hoping to introduce COVID-19 vaccines when available.”

Equitable access to vaccines

The Alliance members will provide technical and capacity-building support, as requested by Indo-Pacific country health ministries and other key stakeholders, for immunisation-related activities, including support for the elimination of measles and preparation for the introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine in 2021.

ARIA will be working with Australian and international partners such as GAVI, the vaccine alliance to ensure equitable access in some of Australia’s nearest neighbours.           

In a statement earlier this week, the Australian Government announced an $80 million contribution to the COVAX Advanced Market Commitment, a global vehicle designed to provide rapid, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for developing countries to ensure that the world’s poorest don’t miss out.

The COVAX Facility is a pooled procurement mechanism for new COVID-19 vaccines, which seeks to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines for each participating country. WHO states that 172 countries are engaging with the COVAX facility but more funding and binding country commitments are needed.

“One of the key barriers to introducing life-saving new vaccines into national immunisation programs is cost. This announcement is therefore a major milestone for our region as it will help ensure equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine for all countries. This is a historic moment which will hopefully spark change and set new standards for all new vaccines, not just the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Professor Fiona Russell, Lead of Asia-Pacific Health Research at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Deputy Chair of ARIA.

Members organisations of ARIA include the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, the University of Sydney, University of Melbourne, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Burnet Institute, Australian National University, Menzies Institute of Medical Research, Kirby Institute, The University of New South Wales and Telethon Kids Institute and others.  

Ivy Shih

Media and Public Relations Adviser (Medicine and Health)

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