Awards

Saving lives—one vaccine at a time

Photo supplied by: University of Adelaide and Women’s and Children’s Health Network

Helen Marshall

Immunisation practice and policy development in Australia: responding to urgent priorities in prevention of endemic and epidemic infectious diseases in children, adolescents and pregnant women.

University of Adelaide and Women’s and Children’s Health Network | 2010 | Career Development Fellowship | $401,361

Team members: Dr Sue Evans, Dr Suja Matthew, Dr Phillipa Rokkas, Mrs Chris Heath, Mrs Michelle Clarke, Mr Mark McMillan, Ms Susan Lee, Ms Katherine Riley, Mrs Mary Walker and Mrs Louise Goodchild, Mrs Bing Wang, Mr Hassen  Mohammed, Mrs Jane Tuckerman and Ms Shugufa Noor.

Immunisation is second only to clean water in having the highest impact on improving public health—but deaths still occur from vaccine-preventable diseases. Professor Helen Marshall and her team are at the forefront of research into understanding and ensuring vaccine safety and effectiveness and identifying immunisation barriers to increase vaccine uptake.

‘There has been a 73 per cent reduction in children hospitalised from severe chicken pox infection since the introduction of the (varicella) vaccine to the National Immunisation Program in Australia in 2005.'1

Professor Marshall is an international leader in vaccinology and the public health impacts of infectious diseases. Her research is aimed at providing evidence to improve immunisation practice and influence immunisation policy nationally and internationally. 

‘I was inspired by the idea that in public health you can improve the health of a whole population by making good policy decisions based on sound evidence,’ Professor Marshall said.

‘My vision is to eliminate serious vaccine preventable diseases in children by improving the effectiveness of vaccine programs for children, adolescents and pregnant women.’

Professor Marshall’s research has been crucial for improving immunisation rates.

‘We improved uptake of vaccines in pregnancy by implementing a midwife delivered immunisation program, following our research findings showing the need for increased awareness, health care provider recommendation and incorporation of immunisation into standard pregnancy care.’

Photo supplied by: University of Adelaide and Women’s and Children’s Health Network

Her research investigates the safety and effectiveness of new vaccines, determining how health conditions can affect vaccine efficacy and how effective vaccines are, following introduction into a population program. Essential to Professor Marshall is working with the community to understand acceptance of new vaccines and any barriers to uptake. Professor Marshall’s research has led to a myriad of achievements, including:

  • Providing evidence to inform optimal immunisation schedules for Australian children
  • Recommendation of a gender-neutral Human Papillomavirus vaccine program through community engagement
  • Identifying disadvantage as the primary reason infants remain incompletely immunised rather than anti-vaccination attitudes and funding that women of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds have lower uptake of maternal vaccines.

‘Vaccines currently in use in many countries including Australia have been licensed based on our clinical trial findings and our research has identified factors leading to improved immunisation uptake in the population,’ she said.

‘Being granted two NHMRC Career Development Fellowships has provided me with the opportunity to develop a multidisciplinary academic program of research in vaccinology and infectious diseases to improve health outcomes for children.’

Next steps:

Professor Marshall and her team are conducting studies to assess the long-term outcomes from meningococcal disease and the effect of the meningococcal B vaccine on carriage of the bacteria—the results of which to will be used by policy makers in Australia and overseas.  


1 Marshall H, McIntyre P, Richmond P, et al., 2013, Changes in Patterns of Hospitalised Children with Varicella and of Associated Varicella Genotypes After Introduction of Varicella Vaccine in Australia. The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, 32 (5), 530-537