How our experts shaped the COVID-19 response

22 December 2021
A look back on the year that was
Perhaps more than ever before, 2021 saw an increased demand for our researchers' expertise. Governments, industry, and the public were hungry for a better understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the way forward.

These are just a few of the research projects, commentary and stories that captured public attention during 2021.

More social distancing needed to control Sydney outbreak

Professor Mikhail Prokopenko

In July, a team of researchers at the Centre for Complex Systems led by Professor Mikhail Prokopenko conducted modelling that found that the level of social distancing in Sydney was inadequate.

Instead, they found that to see a sufficient drop in COVID-19 case numbers after one month, social distancing would need to be observed by over 80 percent of people. 

In the days following a release of the modelling, NSW tightened restrictions.

Read more (Published July 2021).

Scientists find new way of predicting COVID-19 vaccine efficacy

Professor Jamie Triccas. Credit: Nick Moir

Professor Jamie Triccas from the Sydney Institute for infectious Diseases was part of the Australian research team predicting that protection from COVID vaccines would wane over time (losing half of their antibodies approximately every 100 days). He and the team also studied the impact of COVID-19 variants on our immune protection, and the importance of booster shots. The findings were published in Nature Medicine and Lancet Microbe.

Read more (Published May 2021)

How the SARS-CoV-2 virus behaves in educational settings

Ongoing studies into transmission rates in NSW schools and early childcare education settings informed return to school policies in October 2021. The work is led by Professor Kristine Macartney, Dr Archana Koirala and researchers at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, (NCIRS) in partnership with NSW Health and the NSW Department of Education. 

Read more on the NCIRS website

Understanding the reasons people don’t get vaccinated

Professor Julie Leask

Professor Julie Leask was a trusted name during 2021 helping the media and public navigate vaccination and public health information. Her team leads important work exploring why some people who get symptoms don’t get tested and why some might not accept the vaccine. These studies help inform organisations in Australia and internationally to plan and produce information in a way that’s most likely to be effective. 

Read more (Published February 2021)

Australians support the managed reopening of borders

What did Australians want in May 2021? Access to the rest of the world, research by the University of Sydney Policy Lab and Essential Media found. Most Australians supported a careful reopening of international borders once more people were vaccinated, their poll results showed. This research burst open this debate publicly, at a time when many people felt betrayed by the government’s hard border policies.

Read more (Published May 2021)

Modelling shows path to suicide prevention in COVID-recovery

Dynamic modelling by researchers from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre,revealed the approach required to help prevent suicide in the face of the pandemic’s ongoing impacts on mental health.

It demonstrated that taking a holistic approach to COVID-19 responses to avoid a “long shadow” made sense not only from a mental health perspective, but also economically. 

Read more (Published September 2021)

People more confident about vaccines in countries where trust in science is high

Once supply issues were addressed, Australia went from being a COVID-19 vaccine uptake laggard to leader. This is due to our relatively high levels of trust in science. Believing in science is a shortcut to believing in vaccines, the authors of a study in Nature Human Behaviour found. They used the biggest data survey on vaccine confidence, covering over 120,000 respondents across 126 countries, to determine how trust in science across society drives vaccine confidence in individuals. 

Read more  (Published May 2021)

Understanding the virus in children

What are the benefits of vaccinating children, both for the child and the community? And how will we know that vaccines are safe and effective for young children? Throughout 2021, Associate Professor Nick Wood and Honorary Professor Robert Booy provided expert guidance on this topic. 

Read more (Published August 2021)

Call for a national strategy on COVID-19 research

Professor Angela Webster

Dr Anna Lene Seidler and Professor Angela Webster from the University’s NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre led a study reviewing the COVID-19 funding landscape in Australia. 

The study called for improved national coordination of Australian COVID-19 trials, after an analysis found a lack of data sharing and collaboration resulting in crucial research gaps. 

Read more (Published July 2021)

What psychology says about COVID non-compliers

How do we get inside the psyches of people who deliberately flout COVID-19 public health regulations?Easy, you survey them – as University of Sydney academics and their international colleagues did. They found that these people tend to be less open to new ideas, and more extroverted and driven by self-interest. Their findings can guide public health policies, in terms of being the basis for targeted interventions to curb this kind of behaviour.

Read more  (Published July 2021)

Professor Holmes awarded Prime Minister’s Prize for Science

Professor Eddie Holmes

Professor Eddie Holmes was awarded the prestigious 2021 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for his transformative role in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with international collaborators at Fudan University in Shanghai, Professor Holmes was the first person to publicly share the entire genome of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans. That moment marked the start of the scientific fightback against COVID-19, allowing scientists across the world to begin work on vaccines and understanding how the virus evolves. 

Read more  

The University also acknowledges and thanks the many staff, students and alumni who contributed to the COVID-19 response in 2021 in a myriad of ways: as health professionals on the front line, vaccinators and contract tracers, through research and advocacy, and as invaluable advisers to governments, health authorities and advisory bodies. 

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