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Dartmouth Hosts First International Vaccine Conference

Dec 07, 2023   |   Dartmouth News

Speakers at the first Dartmouth International Vaccine Conference on Wednesday stressed the importance of interdisciplinary coordination to bring clinical research breakthroughs to the public in a timely, effective manner.

"You can have the safest and most effective vaccine in the world, but it does not do anyone any good if you can't get enough of them to the right people, in the right place, at the right time," Kendall Hoyt, faculty director for the Dickey Global Health Initiative's Pandemic Security Project, assistant professor of medicine at Geisel, and senior lecturer at Thayer, said in her opening remarks.

Conference speakers included, from left, Jason McLellan, Claire Wagner '10, Peter Wright '64 MED '65, Lisa V. Adams MED '90, Ford von Reyn '67 MED '69, and Thayer Senior Lecturer Kendall Hoyt. (Photo by Robert Gill)

The conference, held at the Hanover Inn, was attended by more than 200 people and brought together experts from academia, foundations, industry, and government to discuss how to turn vaccines into vaccinations.

Speakers covered a wide range of topics including advances in vaccines that target diseases like COVID-19, polio, tuberculosis, and measles among others, how bigger data and new approaches to medical trials could help develop vaccines for challenging pathogens like HIV; the crucial roles of industry and academic vaccine institutes in this space; and the challenges of vaccine misinformation and politicization.

Developing new vaccines and creating the conditions that allow widespread and equitable vaccine access to happen is the ultimate interdisciplinary problem, said Hoyt, one of two conference co-chairs.

Dartmouth is uniquely poised, she said, to create a space for interdisciplinary problem-solving and to integrate leading-edge science with upstream design and a social science research agenda to shape demand, increase access, and reduce hesitancy.

The keynote was delivered by structural biologist Jason McLellan, a former Geisel assistant professor who is now a professor of molecular sciences and the Robert A. Welch Chair in Chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin. McLellan received the inaugural McGuire Family Prize for Social Impact from Dartmouth in 2022.

Additional speakers included Dartmouth faculty members David Leib, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Geisel who detailed efforts to prevent neonatal herpes simplex virus infections through maternal vaccination; Margaret Ackerman, a professor of engineering who pioneers novel approaches to design vaccines against challenging pathogens like HIV; and Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government who illustrated how messaging can influence vaccine acceptance.

"We are delighted to see such an enthusiastic response to today's conference, which reflects the work of 10 faculty members over the last two years," said conference co-chair Ford von Reyn '67 MED '69.

An infectious disease specialist and a professor of medicine at Geisel who led the development of the Dartmouth TB vaccine, DAR-901, von Reyn concluded the program with a vision for a vaccine institute at Dartmouth that would "join Dartmouth institutions to advance the development of vaccines of national and global importance and lead in promoting vaccine equity and acceptance."

By combining basic science, clinical science, engineering and business expertise with a focus from the beginning on access and acceptance, and by an expansion of the successful ongoing collaboration with Tanzania on bi-directional research and training programs focused on HIV and TB, the institute would be able to address major issues in vaccine development, access, and acceptance, von Reyn said. He concluded with the hope that the conference "will mark the beginning of an exciting new level of vaccine research and education at Dartmouth."

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