Guest Editorial

Vaccine Fellowship Presents Tremendous Opportunity

February 13, 2013 01:20 pm Jamie Loehr, M.D.

In 2009, I was one of the Academy's first vaccine science fellows. During that year, I spent 10 percent of my time learning about the entire vaccine pipeline -- from the basic science to the manufacturing issues to the policy decision-making processes at the state and national level.

[James Loehr, MD]

James Loehr, M.D.

That year of experience increased my awareness of immunization resources, enhanced my ability to talk to parents and patients about vaccines, and provided me with an opportunity to interact with vaccine decision makers on a national level. The vaccine science fellowship directly led to my nomination as the AAFP's liaison to the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) in 2011.

The fellowship, now in its fifth year, is designed to develop a cadre of family physician vaccine experts. After training, the fellows are capable of assisting the AAFP as the organization reviews vaccine recommendations from federal and state public health agencies. For example, I was a panelist Feb. 6 during a discussion about human papillomavirus vaccine at the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC) meeting in Washington.

Now, it could be your turn. The Academy is accepting applications for two fellows for 2013-14. The deadline to apply is March 15.

Vaccine science fellows work with two family physician mentors and ACIP members: Jonathan Temte, M.D., Ph.D., and Doug Campos-Outcalt, M.D., M.P.A. Fellows also work with AAFP clinical policy staff members to become more knowledgeable about vaccines. In our monthly conference calls, the mentors talked about vaccine issues that were in the news and reviewed decisions that had been made at ACIP meetings. It's basically a current events discussion about immunizations.

Fellows attend meetings, such as those convened by ACIP and NVAC, and meet with the AAFP government relations staff and representatives from federal agencies. Talking directly to employees at the FDA and the Health Resources and Services Administration allowed me to gain valuable insight into the policymaking process.

Fellows also tour vaccine manufacturing facilities. My visits were superb and helped me better understand the regulation process and safety practices with which manufacturers must comply.

As a fellow, I also attended conferences I had not been to before, including the National Immunization Conference, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Annual Conference on Vaccine Research and the AAFP's Conference on Practice Improvement.

By the time my year as fellow was over, I had a thorough understanding of vaccines from development and manufacturing to the FDA approval process and ACIP recommendations. In addition, I was able to put that information to use in my practice. Today, I'm better at talking with parents about vaccines because I have a better understanding of the recommendations and the science behind them.

I would recommend the fellowship program to anyone with an interest in public health, teaching students or residents, or travel health. I also would recommend it to anyone who simply wants to know more about vaccines.

Here is what you need to know about applying:

  • Applicants must be Active AAFP members in practice or teaching and out of residency and fellowship. They also must be U.S. citizens.
  • Applicants should plan to devote 10 percent of full-time employment for one year to fellowship program activities. An applicant's institution and/or department chair must submit a letter agreeing to the fellowship time commitment.
  • Applicants also must commit to travel time for appropriate meetings; travel costs are covered by the fellowship.
  • Prospective candidates are invited to submit a curriculum vitae and letter of interest to Bellinda Schoof, M.H.A., C.P.H.Q., the AAFP's scientific affairs manager, via e-mail.
  • The fellowship program is funded through a grant from Merck & Co. Inc., but the vaccine manufacturer has no input on or control over the selection of fellows or the content of the program.

It's a tremendous opportunity. Good luck.

James Loehr, M.D., is the AAFP liaison to the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.