• Article
  • July 23, 2021

Pediatric Vaccine Researcher Talks COVID-19

Pediatric researchers are at the center of the effort to vaccinate the world against COVID-19.

By Grant Heiman

Ofer Levy, M.D., Ph.D., leads vaccine research at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Ofer Levy, M.D., Ph.D., leads vaccine research at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Following the events of the past 18 months, vaccines have dominated the conversation and news cycle.

Ofer Levy, M.D., Ph.D., pediatric infectious disease clinician and director of the Precision Vaccines Program (PVP) is leading vaccine research efforts at Boston Children’s Hospital and serves on the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee.

Levy and his team discover and develop vaccines tailored to protect vulnerable populations such as children and older adults. Levy reflects on his work during a pandemic.

A voice for kids: Serving on the FDA’s advisory committee, I’ve argued vociferously for including younger groups in the COVID vaccine clinical trials and approval process. Having a strong pediatric immunization program can be part of the solution to combat the pandemic.

The power of vaccines: It has been a whirlwind of a year as the pandemic amplified the importance of vaccines. To reference a quote from Dr. Stanley Plotkin, a prominent vaccinologist, it’s hard to overstate the beneficial impact of vaccines to human health. In terms of death and suffering prevented, other than clean drinking water, it’s vaccines.

Health care is personal: My father was the tenth of 11 kids, and they grew up in a poor area in Tel Aviv, before the founding of Israel. Some of the children suffered severe infections early in life, and my aunt lost her hearing, partially due to meningitis.

I remember hearing those stories, and then the HIV epidemic broke out. I realized what a heavy toll infections have on the world and working on prevention or treatment would be a great contribution.

The day-to-day: Our Precision Vaccines Program is comprised of a multidisciplinary team, and the Precision Vaccines Network connects investigators across the globe. Our work has expanded to include three NIH-supported COVID-19-related projects.

The first is researching how COVID-19 interacts with the immune system. The project follows 1,000 COVID-19-positive individuals admitted to hospitals around the country to study the biomarkers that differentiate the severity and outcome of COVID-19. These biomarkers give us insight into its development and inform new diagnostic and therapeutic interventions.

The second project is developing a scalable, practical vaccine optimized for the elderly who are at the highest risk of severe COVID-19. We’re excited about this approach as it could be accessible to low- and middle-income countries.

Lastly, we’re developing a vaccine against opioid overdose. The pandemic has worsened the opioid epidemic with over 100 Americans a day dying of overdose. This work could potentially combat that.

Know someone we should meet? Tell us.