Sydney experts spearhead COVID-19 vaccine research

8 June 2021
Research to inform vaccine policy
A leading group of NSW experts, including from the University of Sydney, have received funding from the NSW Government to pioneer Australia-first research to inform vaccine policy in the state and beyond.

The Vaccine, Infection and Immunology (VIIM) Collaborative Research Group will receive more than $4.5 million in funding from the NSW Government over three years to study the clinical and immunological responses to COVID-19 vaccines in NSW recipients.

VIIM brings together the leading vaccine, infection and immunology researchers and practitioners in NSW.

It incorporates expertise from two universities, four medical research institutes, the state-wide pathology service, adult and paediatric health services, and the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance.

Professor Tony Cunningham, director of the Centre for Virus Research, The Westmead Institute for Medical Research,  University of Sydney was a key figure in establishing the initiative, said the collaboration will greatly strengthen research efforts in understanding the virus.

“We initiated this because we wanted to look at the comparison of vaccine immunity, and also natural immunity after COVID – we want to see how long it lasts, particulary in ageing subjects,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.  

Professor Kristine Macartney, from the University of Sydney and director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, says although extensive research on the available vaccines is underway abroad, the rollout in NSW was a unique opportunity to study COVID-19 vaccines with some of the world’s most complete data on virus transmission, taking on the “trickiest questions” about the vaccines in certain populations and up against new variants.

“We can’t keep COVID out. It’s in the world, and as we engage with the virus we need to have the best science behind us,” she said in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald.  

“We are in a unique position. Because we have mostly not been exposed to the virus, we are not immune and are going to rely heavily on the vaccine.”

Professor Robyn Ward, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health said: “We’re delighted with this recognition and support of this crucial collaboration into the long-term impact of COVID-19, at a critical stage of managing the pandemic in Australia. This also highlights the breadth and level of expertise across multiple institutions, including the University of Sydney and their contribution in addressing some of the biggest questions around this virus.”

We can’t keep COVID out. It’s in the world, and as we engage with the virus we need to have the best science behind us,
Professor Kristine Macartney

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said the program will boost our knowledge of COVID-19 vaccines, including their efficacy on variant strains of the virus in future years.

“With the vaccination rollout now well underway, this surveillance and real-world research will continue to arm us with timely and robust data to ensure the very best outcomes for the people of NSW, and help us navigate the path ahead,” Dr Chant said.

“It places us in a strong position and will inform a vaccine policy that can respond to emerging issues and opportunities, and the future development and trialling of next generation vaccines.

“We’re continuing to learn throughout this pandemic and this research will allow us to advise on immunisation schedules, including the potential need for any booster vaccinations for vulnerable groups and the broader community.”

Dr Chant said NSW is in a unique position to add to the global body of knowledge on vaccines and immunity since the majority of our population has not been exposed to COVID-19, unlike many other countries.

“This research will also establish an invaluable biobank of specimens which will be crucial to current and future research to keep the people of NSW healthy and protected from infectious disease,” Dr Chant said.

The VIIM experts in vaccines, infections and immunity are from the University of Sydney, the University of Sydney’s Marie Bashir Institute, Western Sydney Local Health District, Sydney Local Health District, Sydney Children’s Hospital Network, NSW Health Pathology, the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, the University of NSW, Westmead Institute of Medical Research, the Centenary Institute, and the Kirby Institute.

The grant is part of the State’s previously announced $25 million COVID-19 priority research fund

Current members of VIIM

Professor Tony Cunningham (Centre for Virus Research, The Westmead Institute for Medical Research, University of Sydney)

Professor Tania Sorrell (Director of teh University of Sydney's Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity) 

Professor Tony Kelleher (Director of Kirby Institute)

Mark Mclean (WSLHD)

Professor Warwick Britton (SLHD)

Christine Selvy (NSWHealth)

Sharon Lee

Associate Professor Mark Douglas ( WSLHD, University of Sydney) 

Professor Ian Caterson (SLHD, University of Sydney)

Anthony Kelleher

David Brown

Dominic Dwyer

Edward Holmes

Fabienne Brilot

Ian Caterson

Jamie Triccas

Jen Kok

Jennifer Byrne

Kerrie Sandgren

Kristine Macartney

Linda Hueston

Mainthan Palendira

Mark Douglas

Sharon Lee

Matthew O'Sullivan

Megan Steain

Nicholas Wood

Rama Kandasamy

Rebecca Rockett

Rowena Bull

Sarah Palmer

Sharon Lee

Stuart Turville

Tania Sorrell

Tony Cunningham

Tom Snelling

Vitali Sintchenko

Warwick Britton


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