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3rd batch of research funding granted

The Government today announced that a further $343 million has been approved under the Health & Medical Research Fund to support local universities to conduct research studies on COVID-19.   This is the third batch of funding following a total of $170 million approved for 49 applications in April and August last year.   The 18 newly approved studies will address a wide range of health-related issues to better prepare Hong Kong for the recovery stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.   The studies include evaluation of vaccine-induced immune response and vaccination safety for different groups, as well as comparison of the immune status in naturally infected and vaccinated cohorts; research on the role of gut microbiota in enhancing immune response to vaccination; surveys on knowledge, confidence and acceptance of vaccination and social and behavioural interventions to reduce the spread of novel coronavirus in different community groups.   Secretary for Food & Health Prof Sophia Chan noted that the Government has approved a total of $513 million to support 67 COVID-19 research studies from bench to bedside and at the community level through application of new technologies.   "With the joint efforts from academia, healthcare professionals and government departments, these research studies have been contributing to our ongoing anti-pandemic efforts, thus strengthening community resilience amidst the pandemic," she said.   Such research studies address important areas related to immune status, response to vaccination and the physical and mental consequences of "long COVID" which involves persistent, delayed or long-term complications of COVID-19 infection.   Among them, research findings on the strength, breadth and duration of vaccine-induced immune responses, real-time surveillance of adverse events and clinical trials of different combinations of vaccination can help evaluate booster strategies.   To allow further understanding of "long COVID" and improve COVID-19 recoverers' quality of life, there are studies covering detection of new onset of chronic diseases and long-term neuropsychiatric sequelae in the recoverers, development and evaluation of new pharmaceutical and self-management approaches.   Prof Chan pointed out that early results of some studies showed that both the BioNTech and Sinovac vaccines are highly effective in protecting the vaccinated population by preventing severe cases and death from COVID-19.   “The projections based on regular population surveys on vaccination have highlighted the need to increase vaccination uptake rates in the elderly through facilitating measures.   “Meanwhile, genomic sequencing of mutant variants isolated from clinical and environmental samples (such as sewage) will provide useful and timely information on reviewing quarantine arrangements of local COVID-19 cases with mutant strains, vaccine performance and clinical management,” she added.   The project teams will present the interim results of their studies at the Health Research Symposium 2021 on November 23.
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