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Associate Professor Sheena Sullivan

Associate Professor Sheena Sullivan

Associate Professor Sheena Sullivan

(03) 9342 9317 |

Head of Epidemiology, WHOCC Influenza | Associate Professor, Department of Infectious Diseases, University of Melbourne
Viral Infectious Diseases, Influenza
Public Health
The University of Melbourne, Department of Infectious Diseases, The Royal Melbourne Hospital, WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza
Lab Group(s):
Sullivan Group

Associate Professor Sheena Sullivan is an infectious diseases epidemiologist with a PhD from UCLA. She is the Head of Epidemiology for the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza (WHOCC Influenza) and an Associate Professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases (DoID), University of Melbourne. Her work focusses on vaccine effectiveness and the validity of study designs used to estimate it. She works closely with National and Regional partners, including the WHO and US CDC, to use surveillance data to estimate the burden of influenza and other viral respiratory diseases and the impact of influenza vaccines. She leads or collaborates on several sero-epidemiological cohort studies to characterise responses to influenza infection and vaccination.

  • Key Achievements
    • Sheena has authored and co-authored over 150 publications in high impact journals such as Lancet Respiratory Medicine, Nature Medicine and eLife, and has grants totalling >$6million. Her work on influenza vaccine effectiveness has influenced policy in Australia and globally, and she has been invited to speak on this work at numerous local and international meetings. She is on the National Respiratory Infections Surveillance Committee, and is a council member of the International Society for Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses. She is Associate Editor for the International Journal of Epidemiology and Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses.

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    • Annual vaccine effectiveness estimation

      Influenza vaccines are updated twice annually to keep pace with the antigenic drift of the virus.  However, the production time of these vaccines is five to six months, leaving insufficient time to test vaccine efficacy. Sheena’s group works with the Australian Sentinel Practices Research Network (ASPREN), the sentinel practices network of WA (SPNWA) and the Victorian Sentinel Practices Influenza Network (VicSPIN at VIDRL) to provide annual estimates of influenza vaccine effectiveness for Australia. The group also works with collaborators around the world to compile these data into a report for use in vaccine strain selection.

    • Validity of vaccine effectiveness studies

      In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of countries reporting annual influenza vaccine effectiveness estimates using routine surveillance data. In these “test-negative” studies, patients presenting with influenza-like illness are recruited into the surveillance program, swabbed and tested for influenza. Vaccination status is recorded and those testing positive are compared with those testing negative to obtain an influenza vaccine effectiveness estimate. Sheena’s group has been working with colleagues within Australia and abroad to better understand the unique methodological issues associated with this study design.  

    • Serological responses to vaccination

      Many hospitals have a policy for achieving high influenza vaccination coverage among their staff.  However, the long-term effects of influenza vaccination are not well understood. Some evidence suggests that the antibody response to vaccination attenuates with repeated vaccination, and this finding is corroborated by epidemiological studies, which have indicated that the vaccine’s effectiveness is reduced among people who have been vaccinated repeatedly. Sheena’s group is undertaking studies at two Melbourne hospitals to estimate whether serological responses vary according to vaccination experience. 

    Research Groups
    • Sullivan Group

      Sheena’s epidemiology group at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza undertakes research into understanding influenza vaccine effectiveness and the validity of the methods used to estimate it. The group also provides technical assistance to partners in the Western Pacific Region of the WHO. 

      Lab Team

      • Arseniy Khvorov
        Research Assistant
      • Leslie Dowson
        Digital Health Project Officer
      • Christy Vu
        Research Support
      • Hadrien Moffroid
        Research Assistant
      • Hasanthi Abeykoon
        Research Assistant

Full University of Melbourne profile