A Marshfield Clinic physician and global expert on flu vaccine effectiveness has been selected to serve on a national committee tasked with developing recommendations on how to use immunizations to control disease.
Dr. Edward Belongia, director of the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Population Health at Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, will serve a four-year term beginning this month on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
As part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 15-member ACIP provides expert guidance for vaccine use. ACIP's recommendations have a major impact on vaccine priorities and usage in both children and adults. Although the role of the ACIP is advisory, its recommendations are almost always adopted by CDC and become national policy.
"The vaccine schedule was very simple 25 years ago, but it has become more complex as we have found ways to prevent more diseases," said Belongia, who was selected by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. "The committee looks at many factors such as effectiveness, safety, and public health impact when making vaccine recommendations, and I'm looking forward to contributing to the discussion."
The ACIP closely monitors vaccine safety, and Belongia is the Marshfield principal investigator for the Vaccine Safety Datalink. Concerns about vaccines and autism have led to lower vaccine coverage in children even though many scientific studies have conclusively shown that vaccines do not increase the risk of autism.
"The misconception regarding safety is a huge challenge, and we're seeing the consequences of that now, with the highest measles rate in two decades in the U.S.," Belongia said. "This is an entirely preventable disease."
Belongia has studied infectious diseases and vaccines for more than 20 years since completing a CDC epidemiology training program based at the Minnesota Department of Health. He joined Marshfield Clinic in 1995, and his research team has played key roles in studies of vaccine safety and effectiveness, with a particular focus on the level of protection from flu vaccination.
MCRF was the first site to receive CDC funding to study influenza vaccine effectiveness, and MCRF provided the only U.S. data on flu vaccine effectiveness from 2004 to 2008. Now MCRF is part of a CDC-funded research network that measures the impact of the flu vaccine each winter.
Based on his expertise, Belongia has been asked to participate on the ACIP flu workgroup to study flu vaccine research that may be important for new recommendations. He will also serve as the chair of the herpes zoster (shingles) workgroup. The zoster vaccine currently is recommended for U.S. adults at age 60, and the workgroup will evaluate new studies on effectiveness, length of protection, and safety.
The Marshfield Clinic system provides patient care, research and education in more than 50 locations in northern, central and western Wisconsin, making it one of the largest comprehensive medical systems in the United States.