Dr Kirkham successfully pitched a research proposal aiming to look at how much of each different strain of the pneumococcus is present in the nose of Papua New Guinean children in the first year of life, and assess what impact the two pneumococcal vaccines (PCV10 and PCV13) have on this. These two vaccines protect against disease from up to 13 different pneumococcal strains, but there are at least 60 different strains present in the nose of these PNG infants.
Information from this study will inform implementation of these vaccines in settings with dense and diverse pneumococcal carriage, and help guide development of region-specific vaccines to further reduce the burden of pneumococcal disease.
"I am honoured to have received the Robert Austrian Award, which was established in recognition of Professor Robert Austrian’s lifetime commitment and achievements in advancing pneumococcal vaccine development. Receipt of this award not only validates the importance of the work that we do here at Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases, but it is also a personal recognition of my contribution to pneumococcal vaccine research at an international level," said Dr Kirkham.
"I attended my first ISPPD meeting in 2004 in Finland as a PhD student and had the privilege of hearing Prof Austrian deliver an inspiring talk, so I am very pleased to now be a Robert Austrian awardee."
Originally from Scotland, Dr Kirkham developed a vaccine candidate to prevent pneumococcal pneumonia and meningitis during her PhD at Glasgow University, and her research has been translated into clinical trials and influenced national vaccine policy.
"I am fortunate to have been inspired by leading experts in this field who have devoted their research careers to improving child health and eradicating disease," said Dr Kirkham.
"Since becoming a mother, my passion for reducing the burden for infectious diseases, in addition to improving vaccine education among new parents, has grown. I see it as my way of contributing to protecting our most valuable but vulnerable asset."