Vaccine Science Fellow Glad She Gave it a Shot

Melissa Martinez, M.D., Recaps Her Past Year's Fellowship

April 13, 2016 10:22 am Chris Crawford

Recent AAFP Vaccine Science Fellow Melissa Martinez, M.D., can pinpoint exactly when she first became interested in the science of vaccines and their utility to fight diseases.

[Melissa Martinez]

Melissa Martinez, M.D.

In 1997, Martinez was asked to give a pre-clinic talk to a group of about five residents at the University of New Mexico (UNM) School of Medicine, Albuquerque, on the latest information on immunizations.

"I thought this would just be a one-time short, little talk," she told AAFP News. "But as I was putting it together, I became more and more interested and did more and more research and I ended up speaking to all of the residents."

This led to her speaking about vaccines at other local and statewide conferences. "The more I was speaking about them, the more I became interested in immunizations," Martinez said.

During her AAFP Vaccine Science Fellowship this past year, Martinez spoke in front of every family medicine residency in New Mexico, OB/Gyn residents and an osteopathic group. And she still gives the immunizations speech that sparked her initial interest in vaccines to family medicine residents three or four times a year during their clerkships.

Story highlights
  • Recent AAFP Vaccine Science Fellow Melissa Martinez, M.D., discusses her experience as an AAFP Vaccine Science Fellow during the past year.
  • Martinez is a professor in the internal medicine department at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque.
  • She researched the shingles vaccine as her fellowship project.

Journey to Vaccine Science Fellowship

Martinez is a professor in the internal medicine department at the UNM School of Medicine, Albuquerque. The school has long been Martinez's home base -- the place where she did her undergraduate work, was a medical student and completed her residency. She is a Lobo.

Following residency, Martinez stayed in Albuquerque to work at the First Choice Community Health Center. And soon thereafter, she joined the family medicine faculty at UNM and became a founding member and medical director of the UNM Westside Clinic.

Martinez moved to the small rural town of Belen, N.M., where for three years she served as the medical director of the Presbyterian Belen Family Health Clinic. She then returned to work at UNM, although she still resides in Belen.

The university's division of general internal medicine needed a physician who could see children and pregnant women in addition to adults -- and as a family physician, Martinez fit the bill. She was hired to fill this need as the medical director of the UNM LoboCare Clinic, where she still actively sees patients.

Martinez also has been politically active in promoting vaccines in New Mexico, including work last year to help save universal purchase for pediatric vaccines that are provided by the New Mexico Department of Health. The New Mexico AFP, along with other medical societies in the state, lobbied to get the Vaccine Purchasing Act passed and Martinez was there spreading the message. As a result, the bill passed with unanimous bipartisan support.

"It was fascinating to see how physicians could make a difference politically," she said.

Vaccine Science Fellowship Experience

After becoming interested and involved in vaccine science at the state level, Martinez said she was ready to take her efforts to the national stage.

2016-2017 AAFP Vaccine Science Fellowship Applications Open

Applications for the 2016-2017 AAFP Vaccine Science Fellowship positions are currently open with a submission deadline of April 22. The two fellowship positions will work with mentors to become more knowledgeable about vaccine science and policy.

Applications should be emailed to Pamela Carter-Smith, M.P.A., along with a curriculum vitae, letter of interest, completed conflict of interest form and letter from the physician's institution or department agreeing that 10 percent of the applicant's time can be devoted to the fellowship.

"I was very excited to hear about this fellowship and I thought it would be a great opportunity to find out what was going on with immunizations at a national level," she said. "Having the opportunity to talk with family medicine physicians on a monthly basis who are really leaders in the area of vaccine, I felt like I had an inside connection. It was amazing."

For example, at the June 24-25 meeting of the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), Martinez said the conversation on serogroup B meningococcal (MenB) vaccines got heated. But following the discussion, she appreciated getting to speak at the meeting with family physicians such as past ACIP chair Jonathan Temte, M.D., Ph.D.; previous and current AAFP liaisons to the ACIP Jamie Loehr, M.D., and Margot Savoy, M.D., M.P.H., respectively; and voting member Douglas Campos-Outcalt, M.D., M.P.A.

"It was really interesting to watch this contentious conversation about MenB and then be able to talk to the family physicians who knew behind-the-scenes information on what was going on and why people voted the way they did," Martinez said.

What did she learn from her vaccine science fellowship? "It certainly helped me with my knowledge and understanding of vaccines," she said. "I learned a lot about economic issues and quality adjusted life years. I learned a lot about the ACIP and how they make decisions and grade vaccines. And I learned a lot more about the individual vaccines."

Vaccine science fellows also are charged with developing a project and Martinez chose to research the shingles vaccine. "The shingles vaccine is very expensive and it's hard to keep the vaccine in the clinic," she said. "So a lot of physicians choose to write a prescription for the vaccine and send patients to the pharmacy."

Martinez's study examined how many patients holding a prescription for the shingles vaccine would actually go to the pharmacy and get it filled. "What we discovered was just shy of 50 percent of people actually get the vaccine if you write the prescription," she said. "That's not a very good outcome."

As to the future of physicians driving vaccine science, Martinez said residents and students who are interested in working with vaccines and possibly even being a vaccine science fellow down the road should pursue their interests.

"I have a student right now who worked with me on the shingles research," she said. "And I've had some other residents who have expressed interest. Involving (residents and students) in the process (of vaccines) is really, really important."

Related AAFP News Coverage
AAFP Seeks 2016 Vaccine Science Fellowship Applicants

ACIP Issues New Recommendation for MenB Vaccination
Committee Also Addresses Influenza Vaccine Dosage, Pneumococcal Vaccine Interval