Anna Kirkland joins NSF Working Group on Readying Populations for the COVID-19 Vaccine


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image of coronavirus cells
image of coronavirus cells

April 21, 2020

Social scientists from around the country are collaborating as part of a Working Group on Readying Populations for the COVID-19 Vaccine. The group is supported by the National Science Foundation-funded CONVERGE Initiative and the Social Science Extreme Events Research (SSEER) network. The purpose of the working group is to develop an agenda to guide the aggregation, generation, and translation of known and novel research about social and behavioral challenges with a future COVID-19 vaccine. With the time lag in vaccine availability, the U.S. has an opportunity to foresee and study potential issues and to develop evidence-informed policies and practices that facilitate the public’s understanding of, access to, and ultimate uptake of a novel coronavirus vaccine.

As a member of the working group, IRWG director Anna Kirkland (currently on sabbatical until June 1), will contribute her expertise on vaccine safety and anti-vaccine movements. Prof. Kirkland is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies with courtesy appointments in Sociology, Political Science, and Health Management and Policy, and a member of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation (IHPI). She is the author of Vaccine Court: The Law and Politics of Injury (New York University Press, 2016) about the U.S. vaccine safety and injury compensation system as well as articles about anti-vaccine advocacy and political activism.

The working group’s organizers are Dr. Monica Schoch-Spana of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Prof. Emily Brunson, an anthropologist at Texas State University. Other members of the working group include Dr. Walter A. Orenstein, Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology, Global Health, and Pediatrics at Emory University, the Associate Director of the Emory Vaccine Center and Director of Emory Vaccine Policy and Development; Dr. Saad Omer, Director of the Yale Institute for Global Health; and Dr. Gregory A. Poland, the Mary Lowell Leary professor of medicine and director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic; among many other accomplished experts.

"I'm honored to join this amazing group of researchers to think about how to best plan for the future COVID-19 vaccine,” said Prof. Kirkland. “We will need to consider many perspectives from the social sciences and the humanities and keep in mind that the new vaccine will be a political issue in our diverse democratic society. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and we will have a great opportunity to both educate and learn from each other as well as to address some of the troubling disparities and misinformation we have seen so far with COVID-19."

By late-June, the group plans to submit a paper to CONVERGE that conveys a research-setting agenda, highlighting key ethical, methodological, and/or empirical gaps that could be addressed by the broader research community. 

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