The Univeristy of Melbourne The Royal Melbourne Hopspital

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

14 Jan 2021

Preparing for the next pandemic

As we approach a year since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we thought we would share an article prepared for the Doherty Institute 5 Year Impact Report in 2019 about the Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Diseases Emergencies (APPRISE), which looks at important work done in the lead-up to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemics are inevitable. So a group of researchers across Australia is taking a multidisciplinary approach to ensure we have vital systems in place to improve our response.

While we can’t predict what the next pandemic will be, we can prepare for it. That’s the focus of the $5 million National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)-funded Centre of Research Excellence titled the Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Diseases Emergencies (APPRISE).

Awarded in 2016, APPRISE brings together Australia’s leading experts in clinical, laboratory and public health research to address the key components required for a rapid and effective emergency response to infectious diseases.

“You have to prepare in advance. You can’t do this sort of research on the run when an emergency happens,” explains University of Melbourne Professor Jodie McVernon, a member of the executive leadership group of APPRISE and Director of Doherty Epidemiology

“You need to establish relationships, begin to ask the questions and test the research in what we call “peace time”, which is the time between emergencies. That way, you’re ready to activate the response in the case of an emergency

“Despite large numbers of travellers coming to Australia, Australia had no cases of Ebola or Zika virus disease during the global outbreaks, for example, but the threat of deadly infectious disease outbreaks happening closer to home is very real.”

Comprising 20 investigators across the country, APPRISE research is categorised in four broad areas – clinical research and infection prevention; public health research; laboratory research; and key populations.

“One of the key projects our team have been working on is a pre-approved set of protocols to conduct research in an emergency outbreak setting. These protocols are approved for severe respiratory illness. Importantly, the protocols can be amended if the outbreak is of a completely different nature, such as gastroenteritis,” says Professor McVernon.

Members of the APPRISE team are also developing relationships with various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups to understand community connections that allow for research to be conducted.

“During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, Indigenous people were at higher risk of severe influenza. So it’s important we have approved ethics and protocols created in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations and ready for when a pandemic strikes again,” says Professor McVernon.

“I have been working with other members of APPRISE to form citizens’ juries where tricky ethical issues are discussed with people in the community, such as the allocation of a limited supply of influenza vaccine – who will get it first in the early stages of an emergency? It’s really important research to understand preconceived ideas around this issue of allocation.

“We have many projects, initiatives and partnerships in progress, but they are all designed to make sure Australia has the best people and systems ready to go so our research can produce rapid and meaningful improvements in our ability to save lives during future infectious diseases emergencies.”

This article was first published in the Celebrating Five Years of the Doherty Institute Impact Report.

News Archive