School of Mathematics and Statistics - Research Publications

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    From Climate Change to Pandemics: Decision Science Can Help Scientists Have Impact
    Baker, CM ; Campbell, PT ; Chades, I ; Dean, AJ ; Hester, SM ; Holden, MH ; McCaw, JM ; McVernon, J ; Moss, R ; Shearer, FM ; Possingham, HP (FRONTIERS MEDIA SA, 2022-02-14)
    Scientific knowledge and advances are a cornerstone of modern society. They improve our understanding of the world we live in and help us navigate global challenges including emerging infectious diseases, climate change and the biodiversity crisis. However, there is a perpetual challenge in translating scientific insight into policy. Many articles explain how to better bridge the gap through improved communication and engagement, but we believe that communication and engagement are only one part of the puzzle. There is a fundamental tension between science and policy because scientific endeavors are rightfully grounded in discovery, but policymakers formulate problems in terms of objectives, actions and outcomes. Decision science provides a solution by framing scientific questions in a way that is beneficial to policy development, facilitating scientists’ contribution to public discussion and policy. At its core, decision science is a field that aims to pinpoint evidence-based management strategies by focussing on those objectives, actions, and outcomes defined through the policy process. The importance of scientific discovery here is in linking actions to outcomes, helping decision-makers determine which actions best meet their objectives. In this paper we explain how problems can be formulated through the structured decision-making process. We give our vision for what decision science may grow to be, describing current gaps in methodology and application. By better understanding and engaging with the decision-making processes, scientists can have greater impact and make stronger contributions to important societal problems.
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    Anatomy of a seasonal influenza epidemic forecast
    Moss, R ; Zarebski, AE ; Dawson, P ; Franklin, LJ ; Birrell, FA ; McCaw, JM (Department of Health, Australian Government, 2019-03-15)
    Bayesian methods have been used to predict the timing of infectious disease epidemics in various settings and for many infectious diseases, including seasonal influenza. But integrating these techniques into public health practice remains an ongoing challenge, and requires close collaboration between modellers, epidemiologists, and public health staff. During the 2016 and 2017 Australian influenza seasons, weekly seasonal influenza forecasts were produced for cities in the three states with the largest populations: Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Forecast results were presented to Health Department disease surveillance units in these jurisdictions, who provided feedback about the plausibility and public health utility of these predictions. In earlier studies we found that delays in reporting and processing of surveillance data substantially limited forecast performance, and that incorporating climatic effects on transmission improved forecast performance. In this study of the 2016 and 2017 seasons, we sought to refine the forecasting method to account for delays in receiving the data, and used meteorological data from past years to modulate the force of infection. We demonstrate how these refinements improved the forecast’s predictive capacity, and use the 2017 influenza season to highlight challenges in accounting for population and clinician behaviour changes in response to a severe season.
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    Development of an influenza pandemic decision support tool linking situational analytics to national response policy.
    Shearer, FM ; Moss, R ; Price, DJ ; Zarebski, AE ; Ballard, PG ; McVernon, J ; Ross, JV ; McCaw, JM (Elsevier, 2021-06-19)
    National influenza pandemic plans have evolved substantially over recent decades, as has the scientific research that underpins the advice contained within them. While the knowledge generated by many research activities has been directly incorporated into the current generation of pandemic plans, scientists and policymakers are yet to capitalise fully on the potential for near real-time analytics to formally contribute to epidemic decision-making. Theoretical studies demonstrate that it is now possible to make robust estimates of pandemic impact in the earliest stages of a pandemic using first few hundred household cohort (FFX) studies and algorithms designed specifically for analysing FFX data. Pandemic plans already recognise the importance of both situational awareness i.e., knowing pandemic impact and its key drivers, and the need for pandemic special studies and related analytic methods for estimating these drivers. An important next step is considering how information from these situational assessment activities can be integrated into the decision-making processes articulated in pandemic planning documents. Here we introduce a decision support tool that directly uses outputs from FFX algorithms to present recommendations on response options, including a quantification of uncertainty, to decision makers. We illustrate this approach using response information from within the Australian influenza pandemic plan.
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    Modelling the impact of COVID-19 in Australia to inform transmission reducing measures and health system preparedness
    Moss, R ; Wood, J ; Brown, D ; Shearer, F ; Black, AJ ; Cheng, AC ; McCaw, JM ; McVernon, J ( 2020-04-11)

    ABSTRACT

    Background

    The ability of global health systems to cope with increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases is of major concern. In readiness for this challenge, Australia has drawn on clinical pathway models developed over many years in preparation for influenza pandemics. These models have been used to estimate health care requirements for COVID-19 patients, in the context of broader public health measures.

    Methods

    An age and risk stratified transmission model of COVID-19 infection was used to simulate an unmitigated epidemic with parameter ranges reflecting uncertainty in current estimates of transmissibility and severity. Overlaid public health measures included case isolation and quarantine of contacts, and broadly applied social distancing. Clinical presentations and patient flows through the Australian health care system were simulated, including expansion of available intensive care capacity and alternative clinical assessment pathways.

    Findings

    An unmitigated COVID-19 epidemic would dramatically exceed the capacity of the Australian health system, over a prolonged period. Case isolation and contact quarantine alone will be insufficient to constrain case presentations within a feasible level of expansion of health sector capacity. Overlaid social restrictions will need to be applied at some level over the course of the epidemic to ensure that systems do not become overwhelmed, and that essential health sector functions, including care of COVID-19 patients, can be maintained. Attention to the full pathway of clinical care is needed to ensure access to critical care.

    Interpretation

    Reducing COVID-19 morbidity and mortality will rely on a combination of measures to strengthen and extend public health and clinical capacity, along with reduction of overall infection transmission in the community. Ongoing attention to maintaining and strengthening the capacity of health care systems and workers to manage cases is needed.

    Funding

    Australian Government Department of Health Office of Health Protection, Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council
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    Constructing an ethical framework for priority allocation of pandemic vaccines
    Fielding, J ; Sullivan, SG ; Beard, F ; Macartney, K ; Williams, J ; Dawson, A ; Gilbert, GL ; Massey, P ; Crooks, K ; Moss, R ; McCaw, JM ; McVernon, J (ELSEVIER SCI LTD, 2021-01-21)
    BACKGROUND: Allocation of scarce resources during a pandemic extends to the allocation of vaccines when they eventually become available. We describe a framework for priority vaccine allocation that employed a cross-disciplinary approach, guided by ethical considerations and informed by local risk assessment. METHODS: Published and grey literature was reviewed, and augmented by consultation with key informants, to collate past experience, existing guidelines and emerging strategies for pandemic vaccine deployment. Identified ethical issues and decision-making processes were also included. Concurrently, simulation modelling studies estimated the likely impacts of alternative vaccine allocation approaches. Assembled evidence was presented to a workshop of national experts in pandemic preparedness, vaccine strategy, implementation and ethics. All of this evidence was then used to generate a proposed ethical framework for vaccine priorities best suited to the Australian context. FINDINGS: Published and emerging guidance for priority pandemic vaccine distribution differed widely with respect to strategic objectives, specification of target groups, and explicit discussion of ethical considerations and decision-making processes. Flexibility in response was universally emphasised, informed by real-time assessment of the pandemic impact level, and identification of disproportionately affected groups. Model outputs aided identification of vaccine approaches most likely to achieve overarching goals in pandemics of varying transmissibility and severity. Pandemic response aims deemed most relevant for an Australian framework were: creating and maintaining trust, promoting equity, and reducing harmful outcomes. INTERPRETATION: Defining clear and ethically-defendable objectives for pandemic response in context aids development of flexible and adaptive decision support frameworks and facilitates clear communication and engagement activities.
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    Coronavirus Disease Model to Inform Transmission -Reducing Measures and Health System Preparedness, Australia
    Moss, R ; Wood, J ; Brown, D ; Shearer, FM ; Black, AJ ; Glass, K ; Cheng, AC ; McCaw, JM ; McVernon, J (CENTERS DISEASE CONTROL & PREVENTION, 2020-12-01)
    The ability of health systems to cope with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases is of major concern. In preparation, we used clinical pathway models to estimate healthcare requirements for COVID-19 patients in the context of broader public health measures in Australia. An age- and risk-stratified transmission model of COVID-19 demonstrated that an unmitigated epidemic would dramatically exceed the capacity of the health system of Australia over a prolonged period. Case isolation and contact quarantine alone are insufficient to constrain healthcare needs within feasible levels of expansion of health sector capacity. Overlaid social restrictions must be applied over the course of the epidemic to ensure systems do not become overwhelmed and essential health sector functions, including care of COVID-19 patients, can be maintained. Attention to the full pathway of clinical care is needed, along with ongoing strengthening of capacity.
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    Influencing public health policy with data-informed mathematical models of infectious diseases: Recent developments and new challenges
    Alahmadi, A ; Belet, S ; Black, A ; Cromer, D ; Flegg, JA ; House, T ; Jayasundara, P ; Keith, JM ; McCaw, JM ; Moss, R ; Ross, J ; Shearer, FM ; Sai, TTT ; Walker, J ; White, L ; Whyte, JM ; Yan, AWC ; Zarebski, AE (ELSEVIER, 2020-09-01)
    Modern data and computational resources, coupled with algorithmic and theoretical advances to exploit these, allow disease dynamic models to be parameterised with increasing detail and accuracy. While this enhances models' usefulness in prediction and policy, major challenges remain. In particular, lack of identifiability of a model's parameters may limit the usefulness of the model. While lack of parameter identifiability may be resolved through incorporation into an inference procedure of prior knowledge, formulating such knowledge is often difficult. Furthermore, there are practical challenges associated with acquiring data of sufficient quantity and quality. Here, we discuss recent progress on these issues.
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    Infectious disease pandemic planning and response: Incorporating decision analysis
    Shearer, FM ; Moss, R ; McVernon, J ; Ross, JV ; McCaw, JM (PUBLIC LIBRARY SCIENCE, 2020-01-01)
    Freya Shearer and co-authors discuss the use of decision analysis in planning for infectious disease pandemics.
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    Coordinating the real-time use of global influenza activity data for better public health planning
    Biggerstaff, M ; Dahlgren, FS ; Fitzner, J ; George, D ; Hammond, A ; Hall, I ; Haw, D ; Imai, N ; Johansson, MA ; Kramer, S ; McCaw, JM ; Moss, R ; Pebody, R ; Read, JM ; Reed, C ; Reich, NG ; Riley, S ; Vandemaele, K ; Viboud, C ; Wu, JT (WILEY, 2019-12-03)
    Health planners from global to local levels must anticipate year-to-year and week-to-week variation in seasonal influenza activity when planning for and responding to epidemics to mitigate their impact. To help with this, countries routinely collect incidence of mild and severe respiratory illness and virologic data on circulating subtypes and use these data for situational awareness, burden of disease estimates and severity assessments. Advanced analytics and modelling are increasingly used to aid planning and response activities by describing key features of influenza activity for a given location and generating forecasts that can be translated to useful actions such as enhanced risk communications, and informing clinical supply chains. Here, we describe the formation of the Influenza Incidence Analytics Group (IIAG), a coordinated global effort to apply advanced analytics and modelling to public influenza data, both epidemiological and virologic, in real-time and thus provide additional insights to countries who provide routine surveillance data to WHO. Our objectives are to systematically increase the value of data to health planners by applying advanced analytics and forecasting and for results to be immediately reproducible and deployable using an open repository of data and code. We expect the resources we develop and the associated community to provide an attractive option for the open analysis of key epidemiological data during seasonal epidemics and the early stages of an influenza pandemic.
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    Early analysis of the Australian COVID-19 epidemic
    Price, DJ ; Shearer, FM ; Meehan, MT ; McBryde, E ; Moss, R ; Golding, N ; Conway, EJ ; Dawson, P ; Cromer, D ; Wood, J ; Abbott, S ; McVernon, J ; McCaw, JM (eLIFE SCIENCES PUBL LTD, 2020-08-13)
    As of 1 May 2020, there had been 6808 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia. Of these, 98 had died from the disease. The epidemic had been in decline since mid-March, with 308 cases confirmed nationally since 14 April. This suggests that the collective actions of the Australian public and government authorities in response to COVID-19 were sufficiently early and assiduous to avert a public health crisis - for now. Analysing factors that contribute to individual country experiences of COVID-19, such as the intensity and timing of public health interventions, will assist in the next stage of response planning globally. We describe how the epidemic and public health response unfolded in Australia up to 13 April. We estimate that the effective reproduction number was likely below one in each Australian state since mid-March and forecast that clinical demand would remain below capacity thresholds over the forecast period (from mid-to-late April).