When Dr. Nicole Basta’s ’99 friends and relatives call her, they inevitably ask, “When are we going to have a vaccine for COVID-19?”
These aren’t random questions. Dr. Basta, after all, is an infectious disease epidemiologist, vaccinologist and associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health in the School of Population and Global Health at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. The sudden interest in her area of study has prompted her to develop an informational resource to explain vaccines to the public, journalists and anyone trying to track the complicated process of clinical trials.
She put the idea into action via a website called the COVID 19 Vaccine Tracker (covid19.trackvaccines.org).
The website follows various vaccines under development (57 as of Dec. 1), the number of trials (136), and the number of countries involved (37). Dr. Basta is also now tracking which countries issue approvals for which vaccines based on their safety and efficiency data.
Users can click to see information about vaccines in various stages of clinical trials. For example, clicking on the BioNtech/Pfizer vaccine, which garnered headlines for its early results of more than 90 percent effectiveness, provides information about its phase 1, 2 and 3 trials, including location, enrollment and registration information. The website also explains the vaccine testing and approval process, various types of vaccines, and how vaccinations lead to community (or herd) immunity.
“The idea was that I could use my expertise and training to help people sort through all the information out there,”
Dr. Basta said. “There are so many headlines, so many press releases. It’s hard to keep track of all the different vaccines in the pipeline and to know how much progress is being made. Many people from around the world have told us they find it very helpful.”
Dr. Basta received funding from McGill for the project. As the principal investigator, she has enlisted the help of another McGill professor, as well as students, postdocs, and trainees.
Though the wait for a COVID-19 vaccine seemed long as the pandemic dragged on through most of 2020, Dr. Basta said, “This is an unprecedented speed of development in the vaccine world. It’s been less than a year since the virus sequence was identified.”
Even as a young girl, she was interested in epidemiology. In her admissions interview at Shady Side Academy, the 13-year-old was asked her favorite kind of book. She said medical murder mysteries – specifically, Outbreak by Robin Cook. While visiting the library to learn about
the people who study diseases moving through populations, she discovered the word epidemiologist and knew that was what she wanted to do. Dr. Basta, who received a B.A.
in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University, an M.Phil. in epidemiology at the University of Cambridge as a Gates-Cambridge Scholar, and a Ph.D. in epidemiology at the University of Washington, said Shady Side Academy laid a great foundation for her.
“The education I received at Shady Side was stellar. It set me up for a lifetime ability to generate a lot of enthusiasm for the type of work I am doing.”
These days, she is spreading that enthusiasm to others.