SARS-CoV-2 serosurveys

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.

Current serosurveys

Four serosurveys are currently underway. These are led by NCIRS and the Kirby Institute, and involve 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. The study found SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence during the first COVID-19 epidemic wave in Sydney was below 1%, indicating that community transmission was low. See the full results of this serosurvey here
  • A national serosurvey was undertaken between June 2020 and August 2020 using residual blood specimens from blood donors, pregnant women and people undergoing general pathology testing in all states and territories. This project is funded by the Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Disease Emergencies Centre of Research Excellence (APPRISE CRE), the Snow Medical Foundation and the Australian Government Department of Health, and conducted in collaboration with various stakeholders in the Australian COVID-19 Serosurveillance Network. Results are planned to be disseminated in mid-2021.
  • A serosurvey in metropolitan Melbourne was conducted among residual blood donor specimens in November-December 2020. This project is funded by the Snow Medical Foundation and the Victorian Department of Health. Results are expected to be available in mid-2021.
  • A paediatric serosurvey was conducted between November 2020 and March 2021. This involved active collection of blood samples from children undergoing anaesthesia for elective procedures via the PAEDS hospitals network. This project is funded by the Snow Medical Foundation and the Australian Government Department of Health. This project is aimed to be finalised in the second half of 2021.

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, 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
  • Australian Red Cross Lifeblood: Professor Iain Gosbell, Associate Professor David Irving, Dr Rena Hirani and team

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

  • VIDRL – Suellen Nicholson and team
  • ICPMR – Dr Matthew O’Sullivan, Prof Dominic Dwyer and team
  • Pathology Queensland – Robert Gibb and team
  • PathWest – Prof David Smith and team
  • SA Pathology – Dr Geoff Higgins and team

Key collaborators and funding bodies

  • Public and private collection and testing laboratories
  • Jurisdictional health department representatives  
  • PAEDS sites
  • NSW Health
  • Snow Medical Foundation Limited
  • Australian Government Department of Health
  • Victorian Department of Health

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



Last updated November 2021