COVID-19 response and research
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 shone a spotlight on public health around the world, and our staff made crucial contributions to Australia’s COVID-19 pandemic response, through research, leadership and education.
Our expertise across infectious diseases epidemiology, mental health and social sciences, occupational health, public health education, evidence synthesis, clinical trials, health systems, intensive care and trauma research put us at the forefront of Australia’s management of the pandemic.
We’ve responded to this challenge by pausing or adapting existing projects and pivoting to research that informs best treatment for patients; modelling the efficacy of proposed social distancing measures; and seeking to understand the physical and mental health impacts of Australians encumbered by social distancing restrictions or working on the frontline of healthcare.
Experts across several of our domains were seconded to Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services, where they provided high-level advice, contributed to COVID-19 related health policy development, engaged with the public at government media briefings, oversaw pandemic management and contact tracing, and provided intensive public health training to junior doctors.
Success stories from our staff and students include:
- Many of our staff were seconded to DHHS where they provided high-level pandemic management advice and support across health policy and contract tracing, and trained junior doctors
- Finding evidence of increased psychological distress, changed patterns of alcohol and food intake, and an inequitable gender distribution of the burden of care caused by COVID-19 among Australian adults living under social distancing restrictions, all important discoveries that promote targeted and effective recovery support interventions
- Capturing data on almost all patients admitted to Australian Intensive Care Units during the pandemic, allowing the tracking of the rate and outcomes of severe illness, comparison of our management of critically ill COVID-19 patients to other countries, and providing the ability to monitor the health system for signs of becoming overwhelmed
- Developing world-leading ‘living’ clinical guidelines for treatment of COVID-19, an approach that facilitated the rapid incorporation of emerging medical evidence around the new virus, allowing Australians with COVID-19 to benefit from incredibly advanced, evidence-based clinical care
- Identifying significant psychological distress and avoidance of vital routine healthcare among working adults experiencing employment status changes as a result of social distancing restrictions, findings that will help government, business owners and the medical community support impacted workforces, create programs to boost re-engagement with healthcare and allow governments to make better-informed decisions ahead of future lock-downs
- Providing expert evidence to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s special COVID-19 report, and advocated for residents
- Modelling the likely impact of behavioural interventions designed to limit viral spread, such as school closures, and sharing these with state and commonwealth governments to aid decision-making around lock-downs and restrictions
- Identifying loss of taste and smell as a key indicator of likely infection among those presenting to emergency departments in Australia, enabling better identification and triaging of potentially infectious patients
- Engaging in a world-first study that delivered evidence of the ineffectiveness of an untested and unregulated device designed to protect frontline staff from infection during intubation of patients, evidence that was cited by the American FDA when withdrawing approval for use of the equipment
- Leadership of a major multinational adaptive clinical trial investigating multiple treatments for critically ill COVID-19 patients, a trial that among this cohort provided strong evidence of the clinical value of hydroxychloroquine; first identified effective therapeutic candidates among repurposed drugs, including tociluzimab and saroluzimab; and has indicated the futility of treatments that are widely used but unsupported by strong evidence, including convalescent plasma
- Working with researchers at BioPRIA and the Monash University Chemical Engineering Department to develop a world-first rapid COVID-19 diagnostic test, able to provide results within 20 minutes, in the early days of the pandemic
- Studying the experiences of COVID-19 on frontline health workers and carers, to understand risks around virus spread in this cohort, mental health impacts of providing care during a pandemic, and evaluating pandemic preparedness at a health service level, all of which can assist in future pandemic management
- Investigating the quality of care delivered to new and expectant mothers during the pandemic, and social and mental health impacts on these women at a critical juncture in their lives
- Studying the long-term recoveries of critically ill COVID-19 patients