CDIC 2024

Last week, several of the SABII team presented at the 2024 Communicable Diseases and Immunisation Conference, hosted in Brisbane, Queensland. This year’s theme was Protecting Communities: Empowering Health through Disease Control and Immunisation’.

[left to right: Kerrie Wiley, Emma Campbell, Rebika Nepali, Addy Tinessia, Majdi Sabahelzain, Julie Leask]

Rebika Nepali outlines a few of the conference highlights below:

I had such an enriching experience attending the Communicable Diseases and Immunisation Conference 2024, Brisbane. I had the great opportunity to network with many inspiring individuals. Some key highlights from the conference include (my personal experience):

Speaker Tiahni Adamson shed light on “Caring for the country in a climate crisis” with insights from the First Nations community and emphasised how listening to the needs of people is important in decision-making.

As we know 2024 is 50th anniversary of “Expanded Program on Immunisation” EPI, Journey from Smallpox and Polio eradication and prospects for Measles elimination by Professor Peter McIntyre is worth reflecting on.

New publications from the SABII team

In collaboration with Universitas Indonesia and Unicef, SABII have published a report titled, Perceptions and demand for routine immunization and other maternal and child health services during COVID-19 pandemic among caregivers and healthcare providers in Indonesia.

Authored by:  Madeleine Randell, Meru Sheel, Michelle Dynes, Oktarinda, Fitriyani Fitriyani, Lintang Saraswati, Kylie Jenkins, Adeline Tinessia, Mu Li, Margie Danchin, Julie Leask, Tri Yunis Miko Wahyono.

Project description: 

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on maternal and child health services in Indonesia. This was due to reduced access to key services as well as fear of COVID-19 driving reluctance to attend services. One outcome of this was a decline in routine immunisation coverage among young children. Despite a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out in January 2021, only 66% of adults had received their second dose and 20% had received their third dose by April 2022.  

This study aimed to better understand the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to routine immunization, other maternal and child health services and COVID-19 vaccination amongst caregivers of young children and healthcare providers in Central Java and West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. We used the BeSD surveys with additional questions developed with a technical advisory group. In total, 1399 caregivers and 604 healthcare providers from eight districts across two provinces, i.e., Central Java and West Nusa Tenggara, participated in a cross-sectional survey. 

Executive Summary below. Click here to download the full report.

Executive Summary

This study aimed to better understand the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to routine immunization, other maternal and child health services and COVID-19 vaccination amongst caregivers of young children and healthcare providers in Central Java and West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. In total, 1399 caregivers and 604 healthcare providers from eight districts or cities across the two provinces, Central Java and West Nusa Tenggara, participated. Data collection of the study was conducted in March to April 2022. 

The University of Sydney and Universitas Indonesia undertook this research on behalf of UNICEF East Asia Pacific Regional Office (EAPRO). A technical advisory group with members from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Indonesia and the US Centres of Diseases Control and Prevention (here after USCDC), Indonesian National Ministry of Health, UNICEF Indonesia, and WHO Indonesia provided regular advice. 

In related news, Madeleine, Adeline and Julie have another publication coming out soon in BMJ Global Health. Stay tuned:

Randell, M., Miko, T.Y., Dynes, M., Tinessia, A., Li, M., Danchin, M., Oktarinda, Sukesmi, F., Saraswati, L.D., Jenkins, K., Aung, K.D., Noorzad, A.K., Shetye, M., Dewi, L.A., Yosephine, P., Leask, J., & Sheel, M. (2024) Service disruptions, trauma and burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic amongst healthcare providers delivering immunisation and maternal and child health services in Indonesia, BMJ Global Health, in press. 

Congrats to Dr Helps

A huge congratulations to the recently graduated Dr Catherine Helps.

Dr Helps’ thesis is titled: Gaining insight into the refusal of childhood vaccinations – from birth to five years old-in the Byron Shire Community and can be accessed via the University of Sydney library here.


The introduction of public vaccination campaigns in the mid-20th century led to a dramatic reduction of mortality and morbidity from the previously common infectious diseases of childhood. Safe and effective protection from infectious diseases through vaccination is now available to all Australian children. While historically less than two percent of parents in Australia decline vaccination, there are some communities with higher rates of childhood vaccination refusal with potentially negative health consequences for the individual child and other community members, especially where there is geographical clustering of low vaccination uptake. The Byron Shire is such a community recording registered refusal rates of over 30 per cent over the period in which conscientious objection (CO) data were gathered (1999 – 2016). Encouraging vaccine uptake in effective and ethical ways requires an understanding of the decision-making pathways of non-vaccinating parents. This thesis uses qualitative data collected in the Byron Shire from 2016 – 2023 to explore childhood vaccination refusal within this community, and to inform effective therapeutic encounters and the targeting of future public health interventions. Two key concepts were derived from this research. Firstly, that of decisional conflict which summarises the position and experiences of non-vaccinating parents. Secondly, that adherence to the principles of engage, inform and encourage is advised for health professionals’, policy makers and others in their interactions with non-vaccinating parents. These concepts form the basis of the conclusions and the recommendations presented in this thesis. While this research was conducted in a community identified as a cluster of lower vaccination uptake, the experiences of decisional conflict in non-vaccinating parents and recommendations for health professionals to engage, inform and encourage may be applicable more broadly to vaccine-hesitant or refusing parents.
Graduation Day: Dr Helps and Professor Leask, surrounded by Dr Helps’ family.

Multi-disciplinary One Health research towards sustainable aquaculture in Tanzania

SABII co-lead recently visited Tanzania as part of multi-disciplinary One Health research towards sustainable aquaculture.

Sydney ID’s Dr Kerrie Wiley from Sydney School of Public and Dr Francisca Samsing Pedrals from Sydney School of Veterinary Science recently travelled to Tanzania as part of a multi-disciplinary team using a One Health lens to identify priority challenges for sustainable aquaculture industry growth in the Lake Victoria region, made possible through a University of Sydney – University of Glasgow Ignition Grant.

Sydney Infectious Diseases Institute

New publication!

A new journal article, led by Dr Maria Christou-Ergos, has just been published in BMC Geriatrics.

Christou-Ergos M, Leask J, Wiley KE, (2024) The experience of traumatic events, psychological distress, and social support: links to COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and trends with age in a group of older Australians, BMC Geriatrics, 24, 302.

The abstract is below. Click here to see the full article.


Vaccination is important to reduce disease-associated morbidity and mortality in an ageing global population. While older adults are more likely than younger adults to accept vaccines, some remain hesitant. We sought to understand how traumatic events, psychological distress and social support contribute to older adults’ intention to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and whether these experiences change with age.


We analysed survey data collected as part of the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study in a population of Australian adults aged 60 years and over. Data were derived from the COVID Insights study; a series of supplementary surveys about how participants experienced the COVID-19 pandemic.


Higher intention to receive a COVID-19 vaccine was associated with greater social support (adjusted odds ratio (aOR):1.08; 95%CI:1.06–1.11; p <.001) while lower intention was associated with personally experiencing a serious illness, injury or assault in the last 12 months (aOR:0.79; 95% CI:0.64–0.98; p =.03). Social support and the experience of traumatic events increased significantly with age, while psychological distress decreased.


There may be factors beyond disease-associated risks that play a role in vaccine acceptance with age. Older Australians on the younger end of the age spectrum may have specific needs to address their hesitancy that may be overlooked.

Yellow and orange fireworks

Congratulations to Maria and Belle!

Excited Schitts Creek GIF by CBC - Find & Share on GIPHY

Professor Leask AO

Photograph of Professor Julie Leask

Photo credit: Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS

The SABII team would like to wish Professor Julie Leask a huge congratulations for being appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for “distinguished service to health and medical research, to policy advice, and to enhancing community understanding of immunisation.”

In receiving the award, Julie was asked to answer some questions: 

What do you think has been the greatest impact of the work that you do? 

My field looks at why people do not, or cannot, vaccinate and what to do about it. I have grown a network of other researchers who study vaccine confidence and uptake. Together we have made a difference to education and communication about vaccination. Our research doesn’t just focus on hesitancy, but also the practical barriers. We show how services, programs and systems can make vaccines as accessible as possible so all people everywhere have access to this powerful means of prevention.

I have led work for the World Health Organization developing tools for countries to understand and address the causes of low vaccination rates. I have led development of resources to help health professionals talk with people who are hesitant about vaccination. I have advised Australian governments and other countries on how to address some of the communication challenges around vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases. 


What motivates you to do what you do? Where does the enjoyment come from? 

I am passionate about preventing illness and injury. Most of the things that have been successful in public health – vaccination, tobacco control, seat belts, nutrition content labelling, and so forth, rely on human behaviour. I also study health communication. People often call communication the ‘soft’ skill. But good communication can be hard. And it can save lives. That gives my job lots of meaning.  


How did you feel when you first heard that you were being considered for recognition in the Order of Australia? 

Recognition like this brings a mixture of emotions. There is the sweetness of knowing kind people nominated you, but also the questioning of whether you deserve it. Many people achieve a great deal but don’t get such public recognition. So my immediate response when I first read that I was being considered for an OA, was to cry. I felt appreciated and challenged. 


Would you like to thank anyone? 

As a social researcher, I am grateful to all the people who have generously shared their thoughts and experiences and contributed to the knowledge we’ve built. I thank my team at the University of Sydney and the national Collaboration on Social Science in Immunisation, whose work is making a difference. Thanks to whoever nominated me – I will find you soon!


There are many quiet achievers making vaccine programs happen – the Aboriginal Health workers, the nurses, community workers and others who put in so much to get people vaccinated. I am grateful to them for their work in public health. 


I am grateful to my husband Sandy and adult children Billy and Maddie who are constant companions and supporters, and just great people to be around. 


My mother June was raised to believe vaccines were harmful. She didn’t vaccinate her three boys but then changed her mind and had them all caught up after a conversation with a GP (I was born later). She did what she believed was right, even though it was hard. She listened to evidence and updated her thinking. I appreciate that kind of openness.


This video outlines the work Julie and our team do:

Congratulations Julie! Well-deserved! We look forward to working with you in 2024.

SABII team lunch

Last week the SABII team left our usual meeting room behind and headed out for an end-of-year lunch. It was a wonderful way to end a busy year. The SABII group would like to wish everyone all the very best for the festive season and a healthy, happy and fulfilling 2024. 

Team news – congratulations Dr Wiley!

We are very excited to announce that Dr Kerrie Wiley, one of SABII’s co-leaders, has been an awarded a Sydney Horizon Fellowship!!! A massive congratulations to you, Kerrie. Brilliant achievement! What a great way to end the year: Recognition of the very important work that you do, and funding to better support it.

The inaugural round of the Sydney Horizon Fellowship Scheme was highly competitive. We had 1462 applications received from 66 countries, with outstanding candidates applying to every faculty/university school.

A cornerstone of the University’s Sydney in 2032 Strategy, the Fellowships are designed to empower the world’s best and brightest emerging academics to undertake innovative research that contributes to the common good, tackling our greatest challenges of climate change, health and sustainability.