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Yale’s New Vaccine Initiative Targeting COVID-19

January 25, 2021
by Matt Kristoffersen

Amid a global effort to bring vaccines to the public, Yale School of Public Health researchers and their colleagues around the university are hard at work to speed up the process.

In fact, from investigating vaccine skepticism to modeling potential paths to herd immunity, their efforts have gained national recognition — and may help to guide government policy.

Their work was featured in a three-hour Dean’s Workshop, on Tuesday (January 19). Titled “Vaccine Initiatives at Yale,” the virtual gathering brought together some of the brightest minds in epidemiology, public health and medicine and gave them a chance to showcase their latest findings. And in the process, according to Yale School of Medicine Dean Nancy Brown, these researchers were able to identify new ways to work together and learn from each other as the pandemic continues to rage.

The workshop also introduced the Yale Network for Vaccine Initiatives — a new, interdisciplinary effort to encourage more synergy and innovations in public health.

“Today’s workshop about vaccines is especially timely as we distribute the first vaccines against SARS-CoV-2,” Brown told the gathering. “This network brings together researchers and other partners from biological, clinical and public health services who are committed to improving public health around the world through safe and effective vaccination.”

The workshop lectures ranged from the lessons learned in the Ebola epidemic to the science of vaccine acceptance. YSPH researchers contributed along with a host of other Yale scientists.

Epidemiology Professor Linda Niccolai, Ph.D., Sc.M., touched on the importance of the new initiative, which she’s helping to lead. The network, she said, will not only assist in the current pandemic, but also contribute to fighting future diseases as well.

“One thing that the COVID pandemic has done is really to shed a tremendous amount of light on the importance of the need for vaccines more broadly as an important tool for preventing disease and improving health,” Niccolai explained. “As such, this network is going to be inclusive in its focus on any and all vaccines — including those for COVID.”

One thing that the COVID pandemic has done is really to shed a tremendous amount of light on the importance of the need for vaccines more broadly.

Linda Niccolai

Focused on the current pandemic, YSPH Associate Professor Virginia Pitzer, Sc.D., said that mathematical models are useful in predicting the transmission of the novel coronavirus in vaccinated populations.

Vaccines can directly prevent the virus from spreading by developing immunity. But they can also indirectly prevent transmission through a phenomenon called herd immunity. Pitzer explained that models based on prior epidemics can help inform today’s leaders about the late stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. She told her audience on Tuesday that these models can even help determine which vaccine strategies would be most effective in different areas of the world.

But when it comes to herd immunity for the novel coronavirus, Pitzer explained that it will still take a massive amount of effort. “It’s really going to be difficult to eliminate infections altogether with vaccination,” she said.

Other lectures from YSPH included Assistant Professor Jason Schwartz, Ph.D., and Yale Institute for Global Health Director Saad Omer, M.P.H., Ph.D., detailed some of the extraordinary steps these researchers are taking.

And in the keynote address, former Chief Clinical Officer of Smilow Cancer Hospital Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., explained the future path of global health and its potentially long-term relationship to the novel coronavirus.

“We have to really think about how vigorously we want to pursue this particular virus. Do we eliminate it? Do we try to potentially go for eradication?” asked Marks, who is now the director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration. “Lots of things to think about, lots of answers we still don’t know. But hopefully ones that, by working together, we will get on top of.”

Submitted by Ivette Aquilino on January 25, 2021