As the world nears the one-year mark of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a glimmer of hope has appeared in the development of a vaccine. Serving as the Associate Director for Pfizer’s Vaccine Clinical Research & Development Program, Bisrat Abraham ’96, MD, MPH, has played a key role on one of the teams that have been working diligently to bring a vaccine to the public. Bisrat recently shared with us her thoughts about collaboration, innovation and the impact of doing urgent work in an unprecedented time.
How did you come to be involved with the Pfizer team who is working on the vaccine?
I was recruited by an infectious disease physician who holds a leadership position at Pfizer. The two of us were on a career panel many years back and maintained contact. As the work to research and develop a COVID-19 vaccine went into full steam, there was a need to hire individuals with infectious disease expertise. That’s where I come in.
Can you describe your role on the team?
In my current role within the Vaccine Clinical Research and Development Program at Pfizer, I serve as a clinical expert supporting the COVID-19 vaccine and Group B Streptococcus Vaccine programs. In general, I provide medical and scientific expertise and oversight for specific clinical trials and serve as a point of accountability for design, execution, monitoring, delivery, and reporting to ensure patient safety.
What roles did you hold before this?
I previously served as the Director of Clinical Operations and Technical Assistance within the Bureau of HIV at the New York City (NYC) Health Department. In that role, I oversaw training, technical assistance, and capacity building activities for clinical and social service providers serving people with HIV across NYC. I was also a principal investigator for a federally funded grant to support NYC’s efforts to end the HIV epidemic. During the COVID-19 crisis, I also served as a Clinical Operations Section Chief for the Incident Command System. Prior to that, I served as an Assistant Professor within the Divisions of Infectious Diseases and General Internal Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College/New York-Presbyterian Hospital (WCMC/NYP). I also worked at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer in the Division of Tuberculosis Elimination. My primary role was to investigate tuberculosis outbreaks within the U.S. and abroad. I completed my MD/MPH training at Emory University, internal medicine residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, and an ID fellowship at WCMC/NYP.
COVID has so drastically changed so many lives. Can you describe what kind of an impact it has had on you--professionally and/or personally?
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought even more urgency and meaning to the work that I do. This pandemic has demonstrated the importance of having a skilled workforce in many areas including but not limited to the fields of public health, medicine, and pharmaceuticals. It has been such an honor and privilege to be a part of all of these sectors throughout my career and at least two during this pandemic. I’ve also witnessed many friends, family, and colleagues, who are on the front lines of this pandemic, putting themselves at risk on a daily basis in order to save lives. There are so many heroes out there working around the clock during this unprecedented and protracted emergency.
Can you describe what being on this team and being a part of a potentially life-changing initiative has meant to you, or how it has changed your perspective?
It has been an incredibly humbling experience to be a member of the Pfizer team that is bringing this COVID vaccine to market. Though I’ve spent most of my career within medical and public health institutions, my move to Pfizer was motivated by my desire to advance biomedical innovations that would improve the health of populations at large. And during the current COVID-19 crisis, developing a safe and effective vaccine is a critical next step that will help to bring an end to the pandemic. I’ve now experienced this pandemic from the public health and pharmaceutical angles and I’m incredibly proud of how hard my colleagues and I have worked to create solutions, often in real-time, to address the crisis. We’ve also had to work creatively across sectors in ways that are unprecedented. My work has never felt so timely and rewarding.
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