Australia and the world face an extraordinary challenge in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a rapidly evolving situation, and we are working with our Fellows to monitor and respond to the outbreak, as well as liaising with government, the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientist, and others as they work to manage it effectively.
On this page, you can follow our response including expert advice provided to government and updates on the impact of our work.
Rapid Research Information Forum
AAHMS is a key member of the Rapid Research Information Forum, a group chaired by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel AO FAA FTSE FAHMS. The expert forum provides a mechanism to the government to receive analysis of the latest evidence and scientific input on pressing questions regarding COVID-19, as they emerge.
The group produces briefings that summarise the current evidence in a particular area, such as the latest vaccines and therapeutics, the potential for reinfection with COVID-19, and whether there may be a seasonal aspect to the pandemic.
To read more about the Forum’s outputs, visit our dedicated page.
COVID-19 Expert Committee
Our COVID-19 Expert Committee brings together interdisciplinary expertise from the Academy’s Fellowship on pandemic. The committee supports the Academy in providing an independent and authoritative voice as the pandemic progresses in Australia, and as we consider future preparedness. Chaired by Professor Tania Sorrell AM FAHMS, the committee coordinates much of our work on COVID-19. Its purpose is to:
- advise the Academy on the most pressing issues on which we should be contributing.
- develop policy positions and oversee the development of materials including evidence summaries and statements.
- advise the Academy on priorities and strategies for targeting different stakeholders and audiences.
Academy response to COVID-19
On the first day of vaccine roll-out in Australia (21 February 2021), we welcomed the move as a major development for Australia. Vaccinations will enable people to take action that will help to protect themselves, their families and the wider community from a disease that has killed millions of people and impacted everyone. In April 2021, the Academy also commented on the changes to the planned rollout following updated advice regarding the Astra-Zeneca vaccine.
Our December 2020 publication, “Maintaining strong foundations and building resilience: planning Australia’s path through the COVID-19 pandemic”, outlined the actions needed to see Australia through the pandemic in 2021. It was developed by our COVID-19 Expert Committee, and you can read more in our news story or on our policy pages.
Earlier in 2020, we published an initial statement on the Australian response to the pandemic on 20 March and our founding President, Professor Ian Frazer AC FRS FAA FTSE FAHMS, spoke about it with Fran Kelly on ABC RN Breakfast. Read the full statement here.
Our 18 May statement on the ongoing situation supported the introduction and use of the COVIDSafe app as a valuable and important innovation in Australia’s continuing efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
Statements and reports
- 15 December – Maintaining strong foundations and building resilience: planning Australia’s path through the COVID-19 pandemic
- 18 May – AAHMS statement on COVID-19 and the COVIDSafe app
- 20 March –AAHMS statement on COVID-19
Activities and events
The Academy hosted COVID-19 webinar: Where to from here? Charting a course for resilience and recovery, on 29 April 2020. It featured experts from infectious diseases, epidemiology, intensive care, mental health and economics. If you missed it, you can catch up here or read more on news.com.au:
For more details on the event, head to our events page.
We also hosted two of our popular Life as a Clinician Scientist events online in August 2020, featuring Academy Fellows and Associate Members reflecting on their lives as clinician scientists during the pandemic:
- The Prep and the Pivot – responding to a pandemic as a clinician scientist, on 8 August, featured Professor Sharon Lewin AO FAHMS, Professor Steve Webb FAHMS and Professor Ian Hickie AM FASSA FAHMS.
- On the Front Line and in the Lab – driving forward research in a pandemic, on 20 August, featured Professor Ian Frazer AC FRS FAA FTSE FAHMS, Professor Tim Hughes FAHMS and Associate Professor Asha Bowen.
The Academy’s 2019 annual meeting in Perth focused on “Infectious disease threats: old and new”. considered national and global prospects for addressing current and emerging threats, pandemic preparedness, antimicrobial resistance, and disease elimination strategies.
COVID-19 expert database
The Learned Academies COVID-19 Expert Database has been created to provide a mechanism for governments, the business sector, research sector, and other decision-makers to easily access the expertise they need to inform their decision making. It serves as a hub for interdisciplinary expertise on COVID-19 and its widespread impacts on Australia and the world. Fellows, Associate Members and other researchers with relevant expertise can sign up here.
How are our Fellows contributing to the response?
Many of the Academy’s Fellows and Associate Members are working at the front line of responding to this outbreak and sharing their scientific expertise through various outlets.
A small snapshot of their activities includes the following:
- Professor Sharon Lewin AO is Director of the Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, which is working directly across many areas of the pandemic. She co-chairs the National COVID-19 Health and Research Advisory Committee and has contributed to many public discussions, including on the ABC’s Q&A program.
- Professor Katherine Kedzierska, Lab Head at the Doherty Institute, is leading work to understand the scientific detail of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, including how the body responds to the virus.
- Professor Mark Pelligrini, Division Head for Infectious Diseases and Immune Defence at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI), is leading work on treatments and diagnostics at WEHI, including a trial investigating the application of hydroxychloroquine, a drug used for treatment of malaria and certain autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
- Professor Ian Frazer AC and Professor Peter Doherty AC have participated in a series by the Australian Academy of Science on the latest science on the coronavirus. Their interviews can be viewed on the AAS’ website.
- Professor Steve Webb is leading an international clinical trial exploring treatments for patients in intensive care with COVID-19, called REMAP-CAP.
- Several Academy Fellows and Associate Members contributed to a series of AAS resources about the science of immunisation, designed to inform and educate the public about vaccine safety.
- Academy Fellows Professor Sharon Lewin, Professor Brendan Crabb, Professor Doug Hilton, Professor Terry Nolan, and Professor Andrew Steer are on the mRNA manufacturing capability Victorian advisory group.
- Associate Member Associate Professor Margie Danchin won a 2021 BioMelbourne Network Women in Leadership Award, recognising her ongoing work and leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in combating vaccine hesitancy.
- Associate Member Associate Professor Christopher Blyth is on the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, which provides advice on Australia’s immunisation program.
We are keen to hear from Fellows and Associate Members involved in research to address this pandemic. We also welcome their input into the Academy’s work on this important issue: contact Cath Latham, the Academy’s Interim CEO.
How are our activities and programs impacted?
The Academy is fully operational, with staff members now working flexibly, both in the office and remotely. We can be reached via phone and email via our regular email and phone contacts.
The Annual Meeting on 14-16 October 2020 was live-streamed from Sydney. The event included sessions on the pandemic, with speakers including Professor Brendan Murphy FAHMS, the Secretary of the Department of Health, and AAHMS Fellows; NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant PSM; and the ABC’s Dr Norman Swan.
Image credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH