Immunisation in the COVID pandemic era – conference to dissect our biggest global challenge

Banner for Opening Plenary Session

The COVID-19 pandemic – the worst global public health emergency in a century – has changed the way we live. Many lives have been lost, economies brought to their knees, and it is fair to say that nothing is as it was just 18 month ago.

Today marks the beginning of the Public Health Association of Australia’s (PHAA) 17th National Immunisation Conference. The following is the transcript of the opening remarks for the 2021 conference from PHAA CEO, Terry Slevin.

Conference welcome

Regulars will know that this latest conference has been in planning for some time. It was originally meant to take place in Perth in 2020, however, due to COVID-19 it was postponed to 2021; and while we attempted to run the event as a hybrid conference, combining face-to-face and virtual components, due to the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19 it is now being run as a virtual-only conference.

With the postponement from 2020 to 2021, the conference theme was updated to: “Immunisation in the COVID pandemic era.”

 Well, what a time to be talking about immunisation! With daily – even hourly – updates and headlines in our news feeds, this COVID-19 vaccine effort must be the most microscopically scrutinised vaccination program in history. Major announcements on vaccination policy in Australia in the last 24 hours gives testament to the extraordinary focus being given to every possible challenge and complexity that arises in this far-reaching, and often poorly understood, public health endeavour.

To date at least, Australia has largely succeeded, certainly by any international comparison, in stemming the COVID-19 pandemic through effective public health strategies to reduce transmission.   And for our nation, indeed the whole world, immunisation will probably be the most important tool in our kit bag.

It’s a good time to reflect that First Nations Peoples of Australia have demonstrated to us how leadership, consultation, collaboration, and effective communication can keep our communities safe during these challenging times.

Also, governments, the pharmaceutical industry, and academia have never before worked so quickly and efficiently together, to deliver COVID-19 vaccines as a priority for the world’s population. But we are reminded that a vaccine, or even a number of vaccines, are a necessary, but not sufficient part of an effective vaccination program.

More than ever, new technologies are being employed and a new world of improved vaccines awaits us. Equity, access, availability, and uptake of COVID vaccines – and the many established immunisation programs – will remain a high priority for all nations.

Sharing our experiences, the wins, the things that worked less well, in an open spirit of collegiality and trust is fundamental to the advancement of science and public health practice. We must remind ourselves that immunisation existed long before COVID-19, and more work to further improve all existing vaccine programs, and others in development, is an equally important part of our conference. This conference program over the next three days is about that sharing.

We hope that you enjoy being part of this vibrant and diverse scientific program, showcasing exciting and innovative work in immunisation.

I would also like to especially acknowledge the key individuals who made this event possible, the Conference Advisory Committee. Their continued generosity and commitment to bringing you this event, even when facing enormous challenges themselves, has been nothing short of inspiring, and we thank all of them for bringing you this event today. And I want to name them all:

  • Professor Kristine Macartney (Chair)
  • Professor Helen Marshall (Co-Chair)
  • Professor Terry Nolan AO
  • Associate Professor Nicholas Wood
  • Associate Professor Julia Brotherton
  • Dr Holly Seale
  • Ms Michelle Wills
  • Ms Angela Newbound
  • Professor Paul Effler
  • Ms Katrina Clark
  • Ms Jo Rogers
  • Mr Darius Everett



I would like to thank our conference sponsors and virtual exhibitors for their ongoing support of the 17th National Immunisation Conference. Without their continued support this conference would not be possible. And thanks too for their determination to stick with us through this roller coaster of uncertainty.

A thank you to our sponsors and virtual exhibitors:

Please also ensure that you take the time during breaks to visit the sponsors and virtual exhibitors during the conference.

I would also like to especially acknowledge the sponsor for this session, the Western Australian Department of Health.

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