May 16, 2018, 01:53 pm Chris Crawford – With the June 4 deadline to apply for the 2018-2019 AAFP Vaccine Science Fellowship fast approaching, last year's fellows recently took the opportunity to describe their experience with the program to AAFP News.
The 2017 fellows, Amra Resic, M.D., of Palm Harbor, Fla., and Kimberly Stump, M.D., M.Sc., of Corpus Christi, Texas, worked with mentors to become more knowledgeable about vaccine science and policy.
Resic is the vice chair of the Florida Medical Association Council on Medical Education, Science and Public Health, where she helped update recommendations on distributing vaccines to Florida physicians and amend its policy on influenza vaccination.
Resic said getting patients to receive vaccines is one of the biggest challenges in her practice.
"Patients review the vaccine information packet, yet a majority still decline vaccinations," she said. "I am asked many things: 'What are the side effects?' 'Everyone is vaccinated by now, so why do I need to be?' 'What exactly is in the vaccine?'"
The 2017 AAFP Vaccine Science Fellows: Amra Resic, M.D., of Palm Harbor, Fla., (right) and Kimberly Stump, M.D., M.Sc., of Corpus Christi, Texas, (center) visit vaccine manufacturer Seqirus along with Bellinda Schoof, M.H.A., director of the AAFP's Health of the Public and Science Division.
Resic said like typical vaccine-hesitant populations across the country, her patient panel is mostly suburbanites with higher education levels.
"They see vaccines as having more risks than benefits," she said. So Resic saw the AAFP fellowship as an opportunity to better educate her patients about what truly is in the vaccines they ask about.
Stump that her interest in being a fellow also stemmed from a desire to help curb vaccine hesitancy in her community. She added that this hesitancy, surprisingly, had even reached her medically trained colleagues.
"When asked why, it usually becomes clear that the very small risk of the vaccine outweighs its potential benefit in their minds," she said. "They have never seen, or they have forgotten, the horrible illnesses that vaccines can prevent. The problem is distant to them."
Stump saw these diseases growing up, traveling with her OB/GYN mother on missionary trips around the world to places like the Congo and Pakistan.
"I saw lots of deaths from vaccine-preventable illnesses," she said. "You don’t forget that as a kid."
In her current role, Stump works for the Texas Department of Health and Human Services in a facility that offers both long-term and hospital step-down care for intellectually disabled adult patients. Most of her patients have been disabled since infancy.
"Commonly, meningitis in infancy has left them unable to walk or speak, suffering from residual seizure disorders, and often tube fed," Stump said. "They live entire lives this way, institutionalized and forgotten by most of society (sometimes even their own families), but still are very unique individuals. Despite their own remarkable lack of self-pity, as a physician, I feel compelled to bear witness to such profound disability."
"We have tools to prevent this kind of suffering -- we can do better," she said. "There are so many opportunities to educate policymakers, providers and patients. There are simple ways to make the best choices also the easiest choices."
The 2017 Vaccine Science Fellows attended immunization-focused meetings, including the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
Stump said she was impressed with the deep dive into specific cases during evidence discussions, including for the meningitis vaccine.
"I was impressed they reviewed evidence down to a single case having an issue with the meningitis vaccine," she said. "This case involved a strain that most people would not have an issue with."
Resic said what she learned at the ACIP meeting and other conferences she visited the past year as a fellow was valuable information that would be good for anyone to know, from the seasoned family physician to the fresh medical student.
Stump closed her letter of interest for the fellowship summarizing why she wanted to participate in the program.
"People don't respond to statistics; they respond to other people," she said. "And that is where I hope our collaboration can begin."
Other family physicians who are interested in learning more about the science behind vaccine development and production, vaccine policy and the AAFP's fellowship should consider applying by the June 4 deadline.
Applications should be emailed to Pamela Carter-Smith, M.P.A., along with a curriculum vitae, letter of interest, completed conflict of interest form, a photo and a letter from the physician's institution or department agreeing that 10 percent of the applicant's time can be devoted to the fellowship.