National Serosurveillance Programme

Background
A National Serosurveillance Programme for Ireland, including a Seroepidemiology Unit (SEU), is being established in the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC). Serosurveillance is a type of surveillance, and, as such, is a core function of HPSC. The programme will provide timely serosurveillance information on COVID-19 and other infectious diseases of public health concern.

The proposal for establishing this programme followed a report on the results of the first national population seroprevalence study for COVID-19 (SCOPI) published in August 2020. The logistical challenges in undertaking this work highlighted the importance of having a properly resourced and dedicated unit exclusively carrying out critical seroprevalence studies as part of its core function.

Programme Components
The National Serosurveillance programme comprises three components:

  1. A seroepidemiology unit (SEU) at the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC)
  2. A seroprevalence function at the National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL), and
  3. A network of participating biochemistry laboratories.

1. Seroepidemiology Unit (SEU)
The SEU will comprise a dedicated multi-disciplinary team. It is the coordinating centre with overall responsibility for the functioning of serosurveillance activities in Ireland. Its functions will include the design of serosurveillance sampling strategy, oversight of sample collection, statistical analysis and communication of results, and establishment of national and international connections with other serosurveillance programmes.

2. National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL)
NVRL is Ireland’s national virology reference centre. Its functions in relation to seroprevalence will include determining the most appropriate laboratory testing methodologies to be used for serology, analysing serum samples submitted by referring laboratories for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 and, in time, other infectious diseases, and interpreting and advising on the test results.

3. Partner laboratories in each Hospital Group:
Partner laboratories will participate by providing residual biochemistry samples for measuring population seroprevalence. This will involve identifying samples in accordance with the sampling requirements of the SEU, retrieving the samples, taking an aliquot (small portion), and packaging and arranging for transport of the aliquot specimens to NVRL.

Aims and objectives of National Serosurveillance Programme
The aim of the national serosurveillance programme is to measure community-based cumulative population seroprevalence of COVID-19 by age, sex and geographic area over time using residual sera from different sources. Depending on the testing algorithms chosen, it will be possible to distinguish between naturally acquired and vaccine derived seroprevalence.

This surveillance system will, in the future, be in a position to measure the prevalence of antibodies to other infectious diseases, including influenza and other vaccine-preventable diseases, and new or emerging diseases, in the population at regular intervals as required.

Outputs
The SEU will produce regular reports for dissemination of findings on seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 and, in time, other infectious diseases of public health concern, by age group, sex and geographic region. Information will be available to the public as well as to policy makers.

In addition, an interactive dashboard will be made available on the HPSC website. This dashboard will allow users to interactively select results across multiple parameters. Examples of similar dashboards can be found on the WHO endorsed SeroTracker website, supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Further information
Please direct any queries to the National Serosurveillance Programme at: seu.programme@hpsc.ie

Last updated: 14 July 2021