Jessica Yoo*, an END7 Student Advisory Board Member from the University of Virginia, reflects on her experience attending the Sabin Vaccine Institute’s 20th Anniversary Scientific Symposium.
Starstruck. As a 21-year old college student, I had never in my life been surrounded by so many inspiring visionaries and giants in public health. A few weekends ago, I traveled from the University of Virginia to Washington, DC to attend the Sabin Vaccine Institute’s 20th Anniversary Scientific Symposium. There, in the oaken, soft-lit belly of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), I got an insider’s peek at what some of the most brilliant minds of global health do on a regular basis.
Listening to speeches from a star-studded cast of representatives from the Sabin Vaccine Institute, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the GAVI Alliance, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Harvard School of Public Health, I received a crash course on the history of vaccinology, learned about the challenges of developing a broad-spectrum antibody for influenza A, and rediscovered the complexity of the factors underpinning a successful health initiative.
The broad palate of ideas presented— ranging from economic analyses to new advances in cutting-edge molecular biotechnology— reminded me that the public health challenges we face today require an interdisciplinary approach that integrates all fields of study. Observing doctors, writers, policymakers, MPH-holders, researchers, advocates, scientists, businessmen, photographers and professors interact during the coffee break only reinforced this impression.
A ringing noise announced the end of the coffee break and I followed the steady scuffle of heels and dress shoes back into the conference room, where a discussion panel comprised of representatives from PAHO, UNICEF, Merck Vaccines, Biofarma, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awaited. Dr. Ciro de Quadros, a legendary figure that later received the Public Health Heroes of the Americas award for his work with eradicating smallpox and polio in the Americas, led the panel discussion on ways to collaboratively advance the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP). It was clear that this type of cooperation and teamwork between participating nonprofits, governmental organizations and private sector companies is necessary for effective, holistic and sustainable changes to occur in the global health arena.
To signal the drawing end of the symposium, a message from Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), reiterated the potential of vaccines as a powerful tool against diseases and celebrated the great distances already traversed in immunization worldwide. Reflecting back upon Sabin’s 20-year journey, as well as the colorful history of vaccinology and public health overall, I was able to connect my efforts to bring the END7 to the University of Virginia’s campus to the larger effort to improve health worldwide.
In other words, one of the most valuable insights I gained from the symposium was the sense that I was part of something bigger— something noble and grand. Through my involvement with END7, I had also inadvertently joined humanity’s relentless race against the affliction and senseless suffering caused by diseases worldwide. Thus, we may not have the full answer to the question posed by Dr. Peter Hotez at the beginning of the symposium, when he asked what the next twenty years will look like for vaccine development and global health worldwide. But looking back on the significant milestones and lessons accumulated over the past two decades, I too am confident that “the future of immunization looks bright.”
*Jessica joined the END7 Student Advisory Board in January, and has been working with other passionate students this semester to found an END7 Coalition at the University of Virginia.