School of Mathematics and Statistics - Research Publications

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    Rapid assessment of the risk of SARS-CoV-2 importation: case study and lessons learned
    Shearer, FM ; Walker, J ; Tellioglu, N ; McCaw, JM ; McVernon, J ; Black, A ; Geard, N (ELSEVIER, 2022-03-01)
    During the early stages of an emerging disease outbreak, governments are required to make critical decisions on how to respond, despite limited data being available to inform these decisions. Analytical risk assessment is a valuable approach to guide decision-making on travel restrictions and border measures during the early phase of an outbreak. Here we describe a rapid risk assessment framework that was developed in February 2020 to support time-critical decisions on the risk of SARS-CoV-2 importation into Australia. We briefly describe the context in which our framework was developed, the framework itself, and provide an example of the type of decision support provided to the Australian government. We then report a critical evaluation of the modelling choices made in February 2020, assessing the impact of our assumptions on estimated rates of importation, and provide a summary of "lessons learned". The framework presented and evaluated here provides a flexible approach to rapid assessment of importation risk, of relevance to current and future pandemic scenarios.
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    COVID-19 in low-tolerance border quarantine systems: Impact of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2
    Zachreson, C ; Shearer, FM ; Price, DJ ; Lydeamore, MJ ; McVernon, J ; McCaw, J ; Geard, N (AMER ASSOC ADVANCEMENT SCIENCE, 2022-04-01)
    In controlling transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the effectiveness of border quarantine strategies is a key concern for jurisdictions in which the local prevalence of disease and immunity is low. In settings like this such as China, Australia, and New Zealand, rare outbreak events can lead to escalating epidemics and trigger the imposition of large-scale lockdown policies. Here, we develop and apply an individual-based model of COVID-19 to simulate case importation from managed quarantine under various vaccination scenarios. We then use the output of the individual-based model as input to a branching process model to assess community transmission risk. For parameters corresponding to the Delta variant, our results demonstrate that vaccination effectively counteracts the pathogen's increased infectiousness. To prevent outbreaks, heightened vaccination in border quarantine systems must be combined with mass vaccination. The ultimate success of these programs will depend sensitively on the efficacy of vaccines against viral transmission.
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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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    Turnover of Village Chickens Undermines Vaccine Coverage to Control HPAI H5N1
    Villanueva-Cabezas, JP ; Campbell, PT ; McCaw, JM ; Durr, PA ; McVernon, J (WILEY, 2017-02-01)
    Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) subtype H5N1 remains an enzootic disease of village chickens in Indonesia, posing ongoing risk at the animal-human interface. Previous modelling showed that the fast natural turnover of chicken populations might undermine herd immunity after vaccination, although actual details of how this effect applies to Indonesia's village chicken population have not been determined. We explored the turnover effect in Indonesia's scavenging and mixed populations of village chickens using an extended Leslie matrix model parameterized with data collected from village chicken flocks in Java region, Indonesia. Population dynamics were simulated for 208 weeks; the turnover effect was simulated for 16 weeks after vaccination in two 'best case' scenarios, where the whole population (scenario 1), or birds aged over 14 days (scenario 2), were vaccinated. We found that the scavenging and mixed populations have different productive traits. When steady-state dynamics are reached, both populations are dominated by females (54.5%), and 'growers' and 'chicks' represent the most abundant age stages with 39% and 38% in the scavenging, and 60% and 25% in the mixed population, respectively. Simulations showed that the population turnover might reduce the herd immunity below the critical threshold that prevents the re-emergence of HPAI H5N1 4-8 weeks (scavenging) and 6-9 weeks (mixed population) after vaccination in scenario 1, and 2-6 weeks (scavenging) and 4-7 weeks (mixed population) after vaccination in scenario 2. In conclusion, we found that Indonesia's village chicken population does not have a unique underlying population dynamic and therefore, different turnover effects on herd immunity may be expected after vaccination; nonetheless, our simulations carried out in best case scenarios highlight the limitations of current vaccine technologies to control HPAI H5N1. This suggests that the improvements and complementary strategies are necessary and must be explored.
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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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    Assessing the risk of spread of COVID-19 to the Asia Pacific region
    Shearer, F ; Walker, J ; Tellioglu, N ; McCaw, J ; McVernon, J ; Black, A ; Geard, N ( 2020-04-11)
    During the early stages of an emerging disease outbreak, governments are required to make critical decisions on how to respond appropriately, despite limited data being available to inform these decisions. Analytical risk assessment is a valuable approach to guide decision-making on travel restrictions and border measures during the early phase of an outbreak, when transmission is primarily contained within a source country. Here we introduce a modular framework for estimating the importation risk of an emerging disease when the direct travel route is restricted and the risk stems from indirect importation via intermediary countries. This was the situation for Australia in February 2020. The framework was specifically developed to assess the importation risk of COVID-19 into Australia during the early stages of the outbreak from late January to mid-February 2020. The dominant importation risk to Australia at the time of analysis was directly from China, as the only country reporting uncontained transmission. However, with travel restrictions from mainland China to Australia imposed from February 1, our framework was designed to consider the importation risk from China into Australia via potential intermediary countries in the Asia Pacific region. The framework was successfully used to contribute to the evidence base for decisions on border measures and case definitions in the Australian context during the early phase of COVID-19 emergence and is adaptable to other contexts for future outbreak response.
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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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    Pandemic controllability: a concept to guide a proportionate and flexible operational response to future influenza pandemics
    McCaw, JM ; Glass, K ; Mercer, GN ; McVernon, J (OXFORD UNIV PRESS, 2014-03-01)
    The 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic posed challenges for governments worldwide. Strategies designed to limit community transmission, such as antiviral deployment, were largely ineffective due to both feasibility constraints and the generally mild nature of disease, resulting in incomplete case ascertainment. Reviews of national pandemic plans have identified pandemic impact, primarily linked to measures of transmissibility and severity, as a key concept to incorporate into the next generation of plans. While an assessment of impact provides the rationale under which interventions may be warranted, it does not directly provide an assessment on whether particular interventions may be effective. Such considerations motivate our introduction of the concept of pandemic controllability. For case-targeted interventions, such as antiviral treatment and post-exposure prophylaxis, we identify the visibility and transmissibility of a pandemic as the key drivers of controllability. Taking a case-study approach, we suggest that high-impact pandemics, for which control is most desirable, are likely uncontrollable with case-targeted interventions. Strategies that do not rely on the identification of cases may prove relatively more effective. By introducing a pragmatic framework for relating the assessment of impact to the ability to mitigate an epidemic (controllability), we hope to address a present omission identified in pandemic response plans.