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A joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital

18 Nov 2020

NHMRC supports long-term household COVID-19 partnership study

A long-term COVID-19 study of household infections has received $1.5 million in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Partnership Projects scheme.

The partnership project will leverage an existing short-term study so that Australian and global public health units will have more information about the ongoing impacts of pandemic ‘waves’ of COVID-19.

The existing study, called the ‘First Few X’ (FFX) project where ‘X’ represents early cases of COVID-19, is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and was set up to provide public health units across Australia with critical information to assist with early case and contact management for COVID-19.

The original FFX study plus the NHMRC-funded partnership project are being co-ordinated through the Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Diseases Emergencies (APPRISE).

Professor Jodie McVernon, Director of Epidemiology at Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute), a joint venture of the University of Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Hospital, and APPRISE researcher, said while the original FFX study is providing epidemiological and clinical insights over the first 12–18 months of the COVID-19 outbreak, the partnership project will provide a broader range of information over three years.

“It is now obvious that COVID-19 will have long-term impacts and the partnership project will add value to the FFX study by enabling follow-up of FFX participants to provide new information about how their immune systems are responding to infection and whether there are signs of past infection in blood samples,” she said.

“The partnership project will also look at ways of engaging with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) and First Nations communities for FFX-style outbreak studies. This will create partnerships for the current pandemic but will also mean we will have methodologies and partnerships in place to help us prepare for future outbreaks.”

Dr James Fielding, an epidemiologist at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory at the Doherty Institute and researcher on the project, said the project will also work with the FluTracking surveillance system, which was extended in 2020 to collect information about COVID-19.

“Each week about 140,000 people across Australia and New Zealand provide data about influenza-like illness in the community, and this could be another valuable source of information during outbreaks and pandemics,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to sharing insights from my experience as the COVID-19 surveillance lead for the WHO European Region to maximise the value of the partnership project.”

“Ultimately, we think the partnership structure and the extended methodologies for engaging with participants could become a template to help us provide valuable information to public health units around Australia and prepare for future infectious outbreaks.”

Partners for the project are:

  • Australian Government Department of Health
  • University of Melbourne
  • Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity
  • Hunter New England Health
  • Tamworth Aboriginal Medical Service – an Aboriginal community controlled health care service
  • Wuchopperen Health Service –– an Aboriginal community controlled health care service
  • Master of Philosophy in Applied Epidemiology (MAE) program at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University (ANU)

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