Yale School of Public Health COVID-19 Research Tops in 2021

Yale School of Public Health faculty worked tirelessly over the past year conducting critical research that advanced science and influenced policy as the world continued its fight against COVID-19 and its menacing variants.

That remarkable effort is now being recognized. Three research publications in which YSPH faculty were key authors have been identified as among the best papers of 2021 by several leading research publications and The Commonwealth Fund.

One such paper, entitled Clinical and Economic Effects of Widespread Rapid Testing to Decrease SARS-CoV-2 Transmission, was included in the Annals of Internal Medicine’s “Best of 2021” collection. Published in June 2021, the paper focuses on the costs and benefits of mass distribution of rapid home antigen tests. Yale School of Public Health Professor A. David Paltiel, Ph.D. ’92, M.B.A. ’85, co-director of the school’s acclaimed public health modeling unit, served as lead author. The paper was co-authored by Amy Zheng of Harvard Medical School and Paul Sax of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. The Annals of Internal Medicine is one of the most widely cited and influential specialty medical journals in the world.

A second paper, entitled Clinical Outcomes Of A COVID-19 Vaccine: Implementation Over Efficacy, in which Paltiel again served as lead author, was ranked as one of the Ten Most Read Papers of 2021 by Health Affairs. Paltiel, a professor of Health Policy, was joined on the paper by colleague Jason Schwartz, Ph.D., YSPH Associate Professor of Public Health (Health Policy); Amy Zheng of Harvard Medical School and current CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who was a professor at Harvard Medical School until her federal appointment in 2020. Published in Health Affairs in November 2020, the paper showed that the effectiveness of a COVID-19 vaccine would be strongly affected by three parameters: the speed with which the vaccine is produced and administered; the willingness of people to be vaccinated; and the pandemic’s severity when the vaccine is introduced. Health Affairs is a prominent peer-reviewed health care journal that has been called “the bible of health policy” by The Washington Post. The paper currently has an Altimetric score of 1072 and has been cited more than 100 times.

“It is notable when a research team is cited for high impact, but for Dr. David Paltiel and colleagues (like Dr. Jason Schwartz) to be cited twice, by Health Affairs and the Annals of Internal Medicine, in 2021, is truly a credit to the value of their scholarship in influencing public health policy,” said YSPH Dean Sten H. Vermund, M.D., Ph.D., the Anna M.R. Lauder Professor of Public Health at Yale and a professor of pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine.

Faculty are piercing the usual boundaries – both within and beyond the university – assembling the best possible ad hoc teams to address questions of the highest urgency and significance.

A. David Paltiel

A third paper, entitled The U.S. COVID-19 Vaccination Program at One Year: How Many Deaths and Hospitalizations Were Averted?, was listed as one of the top five publications of 2021 produced by The Commonwealth Fund, the private U.S. foundation dedicated to improving health care access, quality and efficiency especially for society’s most vulnerable.

Alison Galvani, Ph.D, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis (CIDMA) at Yale and the Burnett and Stender Families Professor of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases) at YSPH, was the paper’s senior author and led the research team. YSPH Associate Research Scientist Pratha Sah, Ph.D., was also part of the research team and is listed as a co-author. The research, conducted in collaboration with scientists from The Commonwealth Fund and published by The Commonwealth Fund in mid-December 2021, assessed the impact of the U.S. COVID-19 vaccine program. The researchers showed that vaccine rollout averted about 1.1 million additional deaths from COVID-19. The findings achieved immediate notoriety as they were referenced by both The White House and Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joseph Biden’s Chief Medical Advisor, at different media events.

“Much of 2021 was about understanding the real-world effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, i.e. not just how effective the vaccine is in a tightly controlled randomized trial but how effective it is when made available for most of the population,” said YSPH Associate Dean of Research Melinda Irwin, Ph.D., M.P.H., Yale’s Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Epidemiology (Chronic Diseases). “These three publications provide critical information as to the vaccine’s impact on minimizing the virus’ toll on our population and also the continued need for rapid testing to control the spread of the virus.”

All three studies also illustrate how collaboration in public health research can have enormous benefits and impact, Paltiel said. Collaborative science is one of the pillars of the Yale School of Public Health’s mission.

Said Paltiel: “Our faculty have been amazingly productive and influential. One thing I have noted is the remarkable number of new and different collaborations that have emerged. Faculty are piercing the usual boundaries – both within and beyond the university – assembling the best possible ad hoc teams to address questions of the highest urgency and significance. This is what collaboration really should mean, and I think we have gotten it very right.”

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