Funding awarded to ‘close gaps’ in global vaccination coverage

A project led by social scientist Professor Julie Leask has received $2.3 million federal government funding to investigate and develop solutions to improve vaccine uptake and global vaccination programs.

A project aiming to use behavioural and social science to identify the drivers of low vaccination and develop solutions to close crucial gaps in global vaccination coverage has been awarded $2.3 million federal funding.

The Investigator Grant, ‘Behavioural and social science to close gaps in vaccination coverage’ was one of the 38 successful University of Sydney led National Health and Medical Research Council (NHRMC) grants announced today by the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon. Greg Hunt MP.

Professor Julie Leask from the University of Sydney’s, Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery, will lead a team with the collective goal to strengthen the globally emerging field of vaccination social science and so build the evidence base for improving uptake and better diseases control.

Professor Leask is also a member of the University of Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases and visiting professorial fellow at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance.

The research, which involves work at a global, regional and local level, will help countries to gather a better understanding of why people do not vaccinate and to use the findings to develop solutions to addressing this.

“Vaccines cannot realise their public health potential unless people are able to access and accept them. COVID-19 has disrupted vaccination programs globally and we now have the new challenge of ensuring all people everywhere can access a COVID-19 vaccine,” says Professor Leask.

“Australia is a world leader in the social and behavioural sciences applied to vaccination. This grant will give me the opportunity to further build capacity in this field and further our knowledge about how to help countries increase vaccination rates and ensure vaccine programs are resilient.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Duncan Ivison welcomed the announcement:

“Creating a vaccine for COVID-19 was a staggering scientific achievement, but we’ve discovered that getting enough people to take it presents yet another significant challenge,”

“Julie Leask is a world-renowned expert on the behavioural and social drivers of vaccination uptake, and her new NHMRC funded project will provide vital new knowledge on how we can tackle vaccine hesitancy and other uptake challenges – one of the most urgent issues we face today, but also for the future pandemics that will inevitably emerge.”

Identifying barriers and closing gaps in knowledge

Professor Leask is a leading vaccination expert and has also consulted and is currently lead advisor for the World Health organisation in vaccine acceptance. She is also co-chair of the World Health Organization Working Group Measuring Behavioural and Social Drivers of Vaccination.

She recently received UNICEF funding to understand barriers to vaccination in Indonesia.

According to Professor Leask, as vaccines for SARS-CoV2 (the virus responsible for COVID-19) are rolled-out globally, all countries have substantial populations unwilling or unable to vaccinate. Globally, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccination coverage for children has stagnated at 85 percent since 2010 and over 13 million children receive no vaccines.

Interventions are often based on limited or poor-quality data on the causes of low vaccination.

The research program will result in higher quality data on the drivers of vaccination uptake, synthesis and prioritisation of interventions to improve coverage among children, adolescents and adults and special risk populations, repositories of interventions to improve coverage and innovative solutions to the problem of vaccine hesitancy.

Professor Leask says the benefits of vaccinations programs are unparalleled in public health and yet around the world people are not getting vaccines.

“COVID-19 has cost trillions in economic loss globally and devastated entire nations. The pandemic now has the capacity to be much better controlled with vaccination. But the best vaccines – those against COVID-19 and other diseases – are of no use if the public will not, or cannot, take them,” says Professor Leask.

“This research will help countries to gather a better understanding of why people don’t vaccinate and what to do about it.”

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