NCIRS is co-leading the Australian COVID-19 Serosurveillance Network and a suite of serosurveys with the Kirby Institute to measure the prevalence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in target populations. Serosurveys involve conducting serological tests on thousands of Australians across various age groups, geographical locations and target populations to determine whether someone has been exposed to SARS-CoV-2. The tests detect antibodies, which are made by the body following an infection with the virus. SARS-CoV-2 serosurveys provide critical information to estimate the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus in the Australian community. Currently our understanding of the epidemiology of COVID-19 in Australia has been predominantly based on the identification of cases who have presented for testing because they are ill (have symptoms). While this allows us to see the “tip of the iceberg”, seroprevalance studies provide a broader view of previous SARS-CoV-2 infections, including mild and asymptomatic cases and those who may not have been tested during their infection. 

SARS-CoV-2 serosurveys are a key component of the Australian National Disease Surveillance Plan for COVID-19  and are listed as a precedent condition necessary to inform public health measures in the Australia’s Pandemic Health Intelligence Plan. Findings from these serosurveys will be used to inform public health policy, vaccination strategies and mathematical models designed to predict future disease spread, associated morbidity and mortality, health service needs and COVID-19 vaccine introduction.
Three serosurveys are currently underway, led by NCIRS and the Kirby Institute and involving many collaborators: 

  • The Sydney serosurvey, funded by NSW Health, with testing conducted at the Institute of Clinical Pathology and Medical Research (ICPMR), was undertaken from late April to early June 2020 in metropolitan Sydney using residual blood specimens from blood donors, pregnant women and people undergoing general pathology testing. Results of this serosurvey are now available.
  • The Australian national serosurvey is underway using residual blood specimens from blood donors, pregnant women and people undergoing general pathology testing from all states and territories. 
  • The paediatric serosurvey involving active collection of blood samples from children undergoing anaesthesia for elective procedures via the PAEDS hospitals network is underway. 

The national and paediatric serosurveys are funded in part by the APPRISE CRE and the Snow Medical Foundation, and are being undertaken in alignment with the Australian National Disease Surveillance Plan for COVID-19. The Australian COVID-19 Serosurveillance Network involves collaboration between public and private laboratories, Australian Red Cross Lifeblood, national and jurisdictional health department representatives and subject matter experts (see the below list). This network has been established to bring together collaborators and expertise, and facilitate the ability to draw on the same sites to repeat serosurveys at subsequent times.

Major collaborators

Lead investigator team

  • NCIRS: Kaitlyn Vette, Associate Professor Heather Gidding, Dr Helen Quinn, Dr Alex Hendry, Lucy Armstrong, Dr Archana Koirala, Associate Professor Nicholas Wood, Nicole Dinsmore, Dr Frank Beard, Professor Kristine Macartney
  • Kirby Institute: Dr Dorothy Machalek, Professor John Kaldor
  • The Royal Women’s Hospital: Hannah Shilling
  • Murdoch Children’s Research Institute: Professor John Carlin

Key collaborators and funding bodies

  • Australian Red Cross Lifeblood
  • Public and private collection laboratories and PAEDS sites
  • NSW Health
  • Snow Medical Foundation Limited

Laboratory methods leads

  • Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL): Suellen Nicholson
  • Institute of Clinical Pathology and Medical Research (ICPMR): Dr Matthew O’Sullivan, Professor Dominic Dwyer

Reference laboratories

  • SA Pathology
  • Pathology Queensland

Jurisdictional representatives

  • ACT – Dr Tambri Housen
  • NSW – Mr Roy Byun
  • NT – Dr Peter Markey
  • QLD – Associate Professor Stephen Lambert
  • SA – Professor Caroline Miller
  • TAS – Dr Louise Cooley
  • VIC – Janet Strachan
  • WA – Professor Paul Effler

We acknowledge and thank other collaborators involved, including those not specifically named above.

Last updated November 2020