Research Projects

Behavioural and social science to close gaps in vaccination coverage

Investigator: Julie Leask

Funding: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Investigator Grant

Timeframe: 2022-2026

Project Description:

The program of work aims to: (a) Support assessments of the causes of low vaccination coverage to inform global programs, planning and prioritization; (b) Develop, synthesise and translate interventions for improving vaccination coverage; (c) Build capacity for more effective policy and programmatic responses to low coverage. The work includes:

Program 1: Global tools to measure the Behavioural and Social Drivers (BeSD) of vaccination uptake 

Program 2: Supporting immunisation coverage and risk communication in the Asia-Pacific Region

Program 3: Innovations for increasing confidence in vaccines and vaccination programs



Protecting Human and Animal Health and Supporting Sustainable Agriculture: Integrating social science evidence into the global fight against vaccine-preventable and vector-borne diseases

Investigator: Kerrie Wiley

Funding: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Investigator Grant, Sydney Horizons Fellowship

Timeframe: 2022-2028

Project Description:

This grant includes a number of work streams with an overall aim to improve vaccine uptake in people and animals in global settings, with a focus on the Australian, Southeast Asia and Pacific regions.  This project also aims to better integrate social science in program implementation and decision-making.

Behavioural and Social Drivers of vaccination (BeSD) measurement 
  • Developing training materials and other BeSD tools to understand and measure the drivers of vaccine uptake globally
  • Collaborating with Instituto Nacional de Saude Publica Timor Leste, Ministry of Health Timor Leste, WHO Timor Leste Office and the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance to investigate the reasons that children remain un- or under-vaccinated in Timor Leste.
  • Providing technical support for implementation for various projects and countries in Asia-Pacific and Africa
  • Evaluation of BeSD of HPV vaccination in Canada
One Health
  • Mosquito Borne Diseases Understanding the awareness and knowledge about mosquito borne diseases in Australia and the social and behavioural drivers of mosquito borne disease prevention, with a focus on Japanese Encephalitis vaccination. Collaborating on Japanese Encephalitis disease spread model development in Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea
  • Understanding vaccination behaviour of horse owners for equine Hendra Virus vaccination and assessing the applicability of BeSD framework to understand horse owner vaccination decisions, with a focus on modifying it for this population
  • Systematic review of the drivers of Post Exposure Prophylaxis uptake following dog bites in rabies endemic regions.
 Aquaculture vaccination
  • Collaborating with researchers from University of Sydney Veterinary School, The University of Glasgow and Sokine University if Agriculture (Tanzania) to assess disease prevention practices and needs, including vaccination in open cage fish farming industry in Lake Victoria, Tanzania (funded Sydney University / Glasgow University Ignition grant scheme)
  • Collaborating with Sydney University Veterinary School on a key informant study of the Australian aquaculture landscape, including diagnostic capability and practices to inform planning and policy (Funded by Fisheries Research and Development Corporation)
Systems to include social science in public health decision-making and other policy work
  • Collaborative study with the Collaboration on Social Science in Immunisation (COSSI) to inform inclusion of Social Science in the structure and function of an Australian Centre for Disease Control (ACDC) (literature review and qualitative Key Informant study)
  • Collaborating with National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance on a systematic review of the waste generated by vaccination 
Measuring Behavioural and Social Drivers of vaccination – BeSD projects

Investigators: Julie Leask, Kerrie Wiley, Adeline Tinessia, Madeleine Randell

 Funding: World Health Organization and NHMRC

Timeframe: 2022-2026

Project Description:

SABII is working with the World Health Organization to support the implementation of tools for Measuring the Behavioural and Social Drivers of Vaccination (BeSD). Such tools include surveys and in-depth interview guides for both childhood vaccination and COVID-19 vaccination, specifically designed for low-resource settings along with guidance on how to use the tools. Between 2010 and 2022, Professor Leask chaired a working group, that included Dr Wiley, developing the tools which have been used in multiple countries to inform policy and programs. The tools aim to:

 (a) Enable vaccination programmes and partners to boost the quality, availability and use of data on vaccination determinants;

(b) Monitor differences between (and within) countries and track trends over time at a sub-national, national and global level;

(c) Provide programme managers with actionable insights through user-friendly practical guidance for planning, data collection and analysis.


Measuring the Behavioural and Social Drivers of Influenza Vaccination in Australia

Investigators: Julie Leask, Maria Christou-Ergos, Majdi Sabahelzain, Margie Danchin (MCRI), Jessica Kaufman (MCRI), Maryke Steffens (NCIRS), Kasia Bolsewicz (NCIRS)

Funding: NHMRC

Timeframe: 2023-2024

Project Description:

SABII researchers will systematically investigate reasons for suboptimal influenza vaccine coverage in Australia. This study will address the lack of data measuring sentiment towards influenza vaccination at a national level.


We will work closely with the World Health Organization to adapt and validate existing tools to measure the Behavioural and Social Drivers of Influenza vaccination. The adapted survey will measure reasons for low influenza vaccine coverage in a large sample of Australian adults and in-depth interviews will give additional insights. SABII researchers are working closely with the Social Science team at the National Centre for Immunization Research and Surveillance and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute to understand the findings.


Findings will help immunization program managers design appropriate interventions to improve influenza vaccine delivery and uptake. Ongoing monitoring of the Behavioural and Social Drivers of Influenza vaccination will facilitate comparisons in sentiment over time to further refine timely interventions and prompt action to address reductions in confidence.

Effective vaccination conversations in the community and clinic

Partners: Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS), United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Funding: National Health and Medical Research Council (Investigator Grant)

Timeframe: Ongoing

Project Description:

This program of work takes in four distinct packages of work and aims to increase confidence in vaccination and support communities and health care providers to have positive and well-informed conversations. It includes:

Peer-to-peer communication: This is a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control, US, and Taskforce for Global Health to develop a training package for peer conversations about vaccination, with a focus on culturally and linguistically diverse communities. It has collaborated with Somali diaspora communities in Minnesota and Kenya.

Community workshops: SABII are working with community leaders and health workers including the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors and Hunter New England Local Health District. 

The Vaccine Champions Program is a program of capacity enhancement for communities led by MCRI in collaboration with USYD and UNSW. MCRI are leading projects in Fiji, Vietnam that involve updates on vaccination, conversation tips and interactive role plays.

Sharing Knowledge About Immunisation for health care workers

Partners: NCIRS, MCRI

This vaccine communication package assists health professionals to address vaccine hesitancy in maternal and childhood immunisation. Sharing Knowledge About Immunisation (SKAI) was developed by our team and partners and is run by NCIRS. It includes conversation tips and training for health care workers and information for childhood and maternal vaccination. The SABII team provide inputs into updates of the structure, content and SKAI dissemination.  

Preparing Australia for the next pandemic: Journalists experiences of reporting controversial topics during the COVID-19 pandemic

Investigators: Julie Leask, Claire Hooker, Pen Robinson, Stephanie Mantilla. Lyn Gilbert (USYD), Chris Degeling (UoW), Jane Williams (UoW), Su-yin Hor (UTS)

Funding: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Ideas Grant and Investigator Grant

Timeframe: 2022-2024

Project Description: 

This qualitative study is exploring the challenges journalists faced in reporting on COVID-19 in Australia by documenting and analysing journalists’ experiences, perspectives, and challenges. It involves in-depth interviews with reporters, editors and producers from major Australia media outlets across print, radio and television.

Perceptions and demand for routine immunization and other maternal and child health services during COVID-19 pandemic among caregivers and healthcare workers in Indonesia

Investigators: Julie Leask, Meru Sheel, Mu Li, Madeleine Randell and Adeline Tinessia (USyd), Tri Yunis Miko Wahyono and Oktarinda Miko (Universitas Indonesia), Margie Danchin (MCRI), Michelle Dynes (UNICEF EAPRO), Kylie Jenkins (consultant)

Funding: UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office (EAPRO)

Timeframe: 2021 – 2023

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. Data collection of the study was conducted in March to April 2022 and findings have been published: Influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on caregiver beliefs and experiences of routine childhood immunisation in Indonesia

Psychological trauma: Understanding vaccine hesitancy in relation to psychological trauma

Investigator: Maria Christou-Ergos (PhD Candidate)

Supervisors: Prof. Julie Leask and Dr. Kerrie Wiley

Funding: NHMRC Centre of Research

Timeframe: 2020-2023

Project description:

The aim of this research was to understand how the experience of psychological trauma influences vaccination decisions. It built on what is known about vaccine hesitancy and developed a trauma-informed vaccination interventions for vaccine delivery services. It included; (a) a qualitative exploration of how medical trauma influences the vaccination decisions of non-vaccinating parents; (b) a national survey investigating associations between vaccine hesitancy and traumatic life events, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and the traumatic vaccination experiences of others; (c) a survey of older Australians and associations between vaccine hesitancy and traumatic events, social support and psychological distress; (d) a guidance for vaccination providers to improve the vaccination experiences of people affected by trauma.

An examination on the functionality and impact of EU health and national vaccination laws and policies during the COVID-19 pandemic

Investigator: Nicole Batten, PhD Candidate

Supervisors: Prof. Emerita Bronwyn Winter and Dr. Kerrie Wiley

Timeframe: 2020-2024

Project Description: An examination on the functionality of EU health law during the COVID-19 pandemic and a comparative case study of national EU Member State COVID-19 vaccine policies and laws, and their effect on disease manifestations and socio-political responses. This interdisciplinary research aims to examine how the pandemic impacted health policy across the EU, demonstrating a move towards further health integration during the unprecedented crisis, disregarding the norm of maintaining state sovereignty over health issues. The research will carry out a comparative case study of the COVID-19 vaccine policies and COVID-19 epidemiological patterns of Italy, France, Sweden, Poland, and Romania. Each country is a reflection of the diversity of the EU and had a distinctive response to the pandemic. 

Exploring vaccination challenges and opportunities in conflict-affected and nomadic communities

Investigator: Majdi Sabahelzain

Supervisors: Prof. Julie Leask

Funding: NHMRC and the Scholars at Risk program

Timeframe: 2023-2024

Project description:

This research project aims to understand the challenges of vaccination and opportunities for improving vaccine coverage in marginalized populations such as conflict-affected communities and nomadic groups. According to the Immunization Agenda 2030 (IA 2030) and the Equity Reference Groups for Immunization (ERG), these populations have high rates of zero-dose and under-immunized children. To address this research objective, mixed-methods approaches will be used to address the research objective, including scoping/systematic reviews and qualitative approaches. The research findings will provide insights that can inform the development of equitable interventions in the future.

Promoting Vaccine Equity Through Policy and Program Approaches to Improve Vaccine Uptake for Refugee and Migrant Populations

Investigator: Ikram Abdi (Research Fellow)

Funding: NHMRC  

Timeframe: 2023-2024

Project description:

Vaccine uptake is crucial for public health, yet disparities persist amongst refugee and migrant communities due to various barriers. The aim of this project is to understand the policy and program level challenges that hinder the successful implementation of strategies designed to improve vaccine uptake within refugee and migrant populations. This project will involve two phases: (a) a scoping review, mapping out the policy and program approaches to improve vaccine uptake for refugee and migrant populations in high-income countries; (b) a qualitative study exploring policy and program level barriers to implementing strategies for improving vaccine uptake in refugee and migrant populations in New South Wales. The findings of these studies will provide policymakers and healthcare administrators with actionable policy recommendations to address vaccine equity in refugee and migrant communities in Australia. By understanding successful strategies and identifying gaps in current policies, stakeholders can develop more effective and culturally sensitive interventions to promote vaccination amongst these communities.