A recent national survey in Nigeria revealed that only 33% of children received all three doses of the pentavalent vaccine (which includes vaccines for Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, H. influenza and Hepatitis B)—well below the global World Health Organization goal of 90%; for comparison, the global average for children who have received all three doses is 85%. Kyla Hayford, PhD, is an Assistant Scientist at the Johns Hopkins International Vaccine Access Center who works on improving surveillance of the effectiveness of vaccines and how to improve coverage rates in countries like Nigeria. In this podcast, we talk about better tests for estimating the effectiveness of vaccination (i.e. serological surveillance), the causes of lower coverage rates in Nigeria, and how to translate research into interpretable and useable material for policymakers.
When I was at the bench doing science experiments, bioethics tended to be an afterthought for me; in public health–which is basically deciding for communities how to best promote well-being–bioethics is (or should be) at the core. Dr. Travis Rieder, our latest podcast guest, is a bioethicist at the Berman Institute for Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University and emphasizes that we should not be making public health policy without bringing in ethical and moral discussions. Using abortion as an example, Nina and Travis discuss how we can move policy and discussions forward in a respectful way in our deeply pluralistic Democracy and society, which tend to oversimplify public health issues into black and white camps that demonize the other viewpoint. We as a society need to move past these debates to find common ground so we can make progress. What’s the common ground? Listen to find out!
Although some listeners may be new to thinking about science communication, it’s not a new field. Our latest podcast guest, Dr. John Durant, puts current science engagement practices in its historical context. In the 1990’s in the UK, there was a shift in expert thinking about working on ‘Public Understanding on Science’ to “Public Engagement On Science.” The shift came after practitioners realized the shortcomings of The Deficit Model, which states that if the public knew more about science, they would accept it better. Practitioners realized that this has some glaring assumptions that made the model not helpful: (1) that scientists have all the knowledge and the public knows nothing, (2) that if the public had more information they would love science (i.e. to know us, is to love us) and (3) that the public has nothing important to say. Newer thinking believed that the public does have an important part to play in science and that we need to get scientists and the public to talk together instead of just the transmission of knowledge from one to the other. John has been involved in science communication science the 1980’s and is an expert in formulating and measuring best practices for science communication as Director of the MIT Museum in Boston. He has led the charge on many science engagement practices, including founding the International Science Festival Alliance and being the founding Editor-in-Chief of the peer-reviewed publication, “Public Understand of Science” (Sage publications).
Translating science into policy is challenging, especially when it has to do with vaccinating pregnant women and other vulnerable populations. Our 60th podcast features Dr. Saad Omer (MBBS, PhD, MPH), vaccinologist at Emory University, who is also involved in several working groups to translate vaccine science into evidence-based policy at the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, The World Health Organization, and at the Pan American Health Organization. While Saad has a large research portfolio, he is most known for his trials to estimate efficacy and immunogenicity of maternal and/or infant influenza, pertussis, polio, measles and pneumococcal vaccines. In 2009, he was awarded the Maurice Hilleman award in vaccinology by the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases on his work on impact of maternal influenza immunization on respiratory illness in infants younger than 6 months- for whom there is no vaccine.
Science advocacy has been in the news a lot these past two years, but many are still wondering what’s the best way to make an impact. I’ve been learning over the last several podcasts that the way to improve science engagement, acceptance, funding, and policy is to include the public in science and to get them to think of science as an important part of their life. Leah Pagnozzi, Bioengineering PhD Candidate at Cornell University, is doing just this with her ‘Take A Politician To Work’ Program. Leah gives politicians first hand experiences of how science is done, how cool science is, and how many different kinds of science there are by organizing lab tours to politicians. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink — Leah would love for this science advocacy program to be spread to other campuses or institutions; get in touch with us at email@example.com if you’d like to be connected.
Is the world prepared for the next global health threat? In our latest podcast, Dr. Tom Inglesby, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security shares with us how the Center is helping the world prepare for health threats, both natural and manmade, with evidence based policy. Originally created by D.A. Henderson, well known for his Smallpox Eradication Campaign, the Center started in the late 90’s/early 2000’s to research, create and influence evidence-based policy in face of of major health threats like anthrax, SARS, and bird flu. Nina had tons of questions about how to know if policies made by the government are evidence-based or if they are pure fear-mongering (she in particular recalls all of the questions around the Ebola quarantines in 2014 and 2015).
How does Johns Hopkins International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) help speed up equitable access to life saving vaccines like rotavirus or HPV vaccines? Mary Carol Jennings, MD, on top of being drawn to community medicine, has always felt a calling for advocacy and bringing positive change to her surroundings. Even through her rigorous medical training, she made time for helping others at all stages of her career. At IVAC, Mary Carol is lead on two projects: RAVIN, an accelerator project for equitable vaccine access to rotavirus vaccine, and developing a new project on HPV vaccine access and advocacy.
Six years ago, I was dating someone living in London. While he was at work, I would troll around London by myself and was pulled many times back to London’s Natural History Museum (NMH), in particular to The Darwin Center and their very interactive exhibit. The NHM is much more than a museum: it is home to over 300 scientists who are publishing 700+ publications a year on the solar system, earth’s geology and life, biodiversity, and sustainability. It also houses over 80 million specimens that span 4.5 billion years! Out latest podcast features John Jackson, Head of Science Communication and Policy at NHM. In the 1990’s, NHM changed the way they approached the museum’s exhibitions. Traditionally, scientists would take something that they were working on behind closed doors, put it in a display case and then go back to the lab. The major goal has now shifted to include the public in the process of science and to shape both research and exhibits with public engagement in mind. I’m still thinking about The Darwin Center five years later, so definitely a model worth learning about.
This week, Nina is joined by International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health) Advocacy and Communications Specialist Swati Sudarsan as they interview Kate O’Brien, Executive Director of the International Vaccine Access Center. Did you know vaccines can address social justice? In this episode, Kate explains that the children around the world who have the least access to vaccines suffer the most from vaccine preventable diseases – but she aims to change that. First on her list is an evaluation of the full benefits of vaccines, in an analysis she calls the “full public health value of vaccines.” She explains that vaccines not only prevent disease in an immunized child, but it can protect the people around them, can help families avert the costs of hospitalization from disease, and can even reduce an emerging crisis – antibiotic resistance.
Kate is a sitting member of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE), which advises the World Health Organization on global vaccine policy, and serves on the Gavi Board representing the Technical and Research constituency. She is a senior advisor at the Center for American Indian Health, and of course, a beloved professor in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Our latest guest is also the latest faculty addition to the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Dr. Monica Mugnier (big news: Monica won an 2016 NIH Early Independence Award which allowed her to skip the tradtional postdoctoral fellowship and become faculty right after completing her PhD work). Monica studies a kind of parasite, called a tropanosome, that causes the disease African Sleeping Sickness. They are very difficult to control for a vaiety of reasons, one of them being the focus of her work (and some very cool science) on how they can rapidly change their coats to avoid detection by our immune system (aka antigenic variation). Monica finds these parasites so cool to study because they break all of the rules (read: they don’t follow any of the classic biology rules that she learned in class). Lots of mystery and discovery!
Monica and I have a great conversation on how to make a great science presentation (and how difficult it can be to strike the right amount of info, depending on your audience). We also discuss the challenges of conveying the importance of global health science research, especially when the illness primarily impacts people on a different continent.