News in brief: $4 million tagged for traumatic brain injury research; Guillain-Barré syndrome rate higher with AstraZeneca vaccine; More Medicare reviews on the way

20 Sep 2021

$4 million tagged for traumatic brain injury research

Another round of traumatic brain injury grants is open to neurology researchers looking to improve patient care and manage sports-related concussion.

The $4 million grant opportunity is part of the Australian Government’s Traumatic Brain Injury Mission — a $50 million program aiming to better predict recovery outcomes, identify optimal care and treatments and reduce barriers to “support people to live their best possible life”, according to a press release.

The grants will be available in two streams, with Stream 1 worth up to $3 million over 3 years for a national consortium to identify ways to improve care for mild traumatic brain injury and Stream 2 offering up to $1 million over three years to develop and implement new approaches for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of sports-related concussion, the release read.

More information on the grant round is available at

Guillain-Barré syndrome rate higher with AstraZeneca vaccine

AstraZeneca’s ChAdOx1-S COVID-19 vaccine may be associated with higher rates of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), according to Victorian researchers.

As of 5 July 2021, 14 GBS cases were reported to Victoria’s enhanced spontaneous surveillance system ‘SAEFVIC’ (Surveillance of Adverse Events Following Vaccination In the Community), one of which, had bifacial weakness with paresthesias variant, and all, linking to the first dose of ChAdOx1-S, the authors wrote in Annals of Neurology.

The resulting incidence rate was 1.0 GBS reports per 100,000 doses of ChAdOx1-S — higher than expected background rate of 0.61 presentations per 100,000 adults within 42 days of vaccination.

“While temporal associations do not imply causality and spontaneous surveillance systems have limitations in capturing all adverse events following immunisation, the observed disproportionality of vaccines involved was unexpected, with zero reports to SAEFVIC of GBS after the [Pfizer] BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine,” the authors wrote, though GBS reports after COVID-19 mRNA vaccine have since arisen, they noted.

Further data and reporting bias minimisation are needed to help researchers “[move] beyond individual case reports” and “generate the evidence needed to inform vaccine recommendations at a local and international level”, they concluded.

Medicare embarks on new round of reviews

Professor Anne Duggan has been announced as the chair of a new Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) Review Advisory Committee (MRAC) that will continue the overhaul of MBS items started by the MBS Review Taskforce.

The Department of Health says the advisory committee will  “ensure the MBS continues to support high quality care, and remains flexible and contemporary.” It  follows the MBS Review Taskforce, which from 2015 to 2020 reviewed more than 5,700 items on the MBS and made recommendations to the minister for health to remove or streamline inappropriate and outdated items, including some for colonoscopy.

Professor Duggan is a gastroenterologist in Newcastle, NSW and Chief Medical Officer for the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, where she provides expert clinical advice to the Commission in its role to improve safety and quality of health care nationally.

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