Professor Raina MacIntyre

Spotlight on PLuS Alliance Fellow and world renowned Covid19 expert
Sunday, November 8, 2020

Virus snapshot: The Latest from Science with Professor Raina MacIntyre [Ep. 29]

Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Global Biosecurity, NHMRC Principal Research Fellow and Head of the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute, UNSW has been helping to position the PLuS Alliance as a global leader in the biosecurity field, providing expert knowledge and strategies to tackle COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. The use of face masksthe spread of airborne particlescontact tracingdevelopment of a vaccine, and protecting healthcare workers are all areas that she has published papers on, advised state authorities about and communicated scientific findings and best practice through the media.

In a recent article for ABC Net, Professor MacIntyre compares the action taken by Western and non-Western countries.  Vietnam is one of the most prominent non-Western countries with an exemplary response to the pandemic.  Vietnam has a population of 97 million, 1,200 COVID cases and 35 deaths to date compared with the UK population of 67 million, over 1,000,000 cases and over 49,000 deaths. Professor MacIntyre believes digital technology has been used very effectively in Vietnam, "it has offered better epidemic control.  The surprise has been that the countries that have the technology and the resources to enact good disease control, such as the US and UK, have just fallen apart," she says. "We've always expected that in a pandemic the problems will be in low income countries, but in many Asian countries we've seen much better epidemic control, often using digital technology."  In the UK delays in introducing track and trace and privacy concerns have been higher up the agenda than in some Asian countries, who have controlled transmissions more effectively. 

In an interview with the Australian Academy of Science, Professor MacIntyre assesses the race to secure a safe and admissible vaccine and the current situation in Australia.  Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has recently announced agreements at UNSW Sydney’s Scientia Clinical Research (SCR) to secure two more COVID-19 vaccines. UNSW is the only university in Australia equipped to carry out Phase 1 clinical trials.  It has been involved with early phase clinical trials for the Novavax vaccine. If proven safe and effective through trials, Novavax will supply 40 million vaccine doses.

Recently Professor MacIntyre has expressed caution about Australia opening its borders to international travellers on 3AW NewsTalk.“We already tried it in February and March and the problem was that people weren’t abiding by it, they were breaching it,” she comments. “Most people will do the right thing, but some people won’t. That’s the problem.“It’s the minority of people who don’t do the right thing that are holding the rest of us hostage.”  Professor MacIntyre cautioned against opening international borders soon. “We do need to remain stringent with the quarantine of travellers coming back in,” she said.  “If we relax those border restrictions … then we’ll face a greater risk of a third wave.”

Pandemic simulations

Professor MacIntyre will be guest editor on the forthcoming edition of Vaccine featuring the Pacific Eclipse simulation and the current work being carried out at UNSW. 

Professor MacIntyre worked with Associate Professor David Heslop from UNSW Sydney, Associate Professor Brian Gerber from Arizona State University and US Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii to hold the immersive Pacific Eclipse simulation in December 2019 of a multi-threat bioterrorism disaster. The exercise was attended by more than 200 key government and non-government stakeholders from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Indo-Pacific region.

In 2016, Professor MacIntyre – conceived a mini film series called Pandemic as a teaching aid for her online course on Bioterrorism and Health Intelligence. The film series became part of a suite of Global Health programs offered by the PLuS Alliance. In addition, teams of researchers across the PLuS partner universities have collaborated in other ways to save lives and improve public awareness of biosecurity risks.

Accolades and nominations

On 11th November Professor MacIntyre will be presenting the 2020 Diana Temple Memorial Lecture which honours the role women in science.  She will be discussing her research journey, diversity in medical research and COVID-19.

Professor MacIntyre has also been nominated for the  2020 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, in the category, 'Defence Science and Technology Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia'.  The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards, honouring excellence across the areas of research & innovation, leadership, science engagement, and school science.  The winners will be announced on 28th November.

For enquiries contact Bisi Olulode, Communications Officer, olabisi.olulode@plusalliance.org