The beauty of going to a school like Michigan is that you immediately have access to hear world experts speak on a variety of issues. As this may be my last year ever in Ann Arbor, I have decided to challenge myself to take advantage of the numerous opportunities to hear talented and accomplished speakers throughout campus. Last week, for instance, I went to hear Lilly Ledbetter (the force behind the Fair Pay Act), which was unbelievably inspiring. Yesterday, I took my challenge down the hallway, to listen to Ran Balicer, a doctor, researcher, and adviser at Clalit Health Services in Israel. Although I can’t say that infectious disease prevention is my biggest passion (sorry, Epid!), I wanted to learn more and to understand an international perspective on this issue. I learned a ton about vaccination programs and the Michigan – Israel partnership, which I will try to boil down into a few key points:
- There’s a lot that goes into planning vaccination programs. How do you prioritize which vaccines to mandate when the science is evolving, old diseases keep coming back, and new infectious diseases keep emerging?
- The public cares. Transparency, active participation, and choice matter to society. Through social media sites, this is even more evident, as people can vocalize their opposition to or support of these programs almost immediately. This is just another reason why effective health communication is so critical.
- Having extensive clinical data means something. In Israel, health insurance is mandatory, and Clalit is Israel’s largest health care provider, with 4 million members. This means that they have collected full life span data on many members, with data that is ID tagged and geo-coded. This information helps researchers to understand when a procedure is effective and when it’s not.
- Slightly more immunity is not always better. For instance, when the varicella vaccine program was private in Israel (i.e. optional if you could afford it and wanted it), there was a lower immunity rate and higher morbidity among those with low socioeconomic status. Plus, researchers found that because the vaccine only made the society slightly more immune, the amount of infections were growing at older ages.
Perhaps the most important piece of information I took away from this talk was the promise of an initiative between the University of Michigan, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and the Israel Ministry of Health. This program will hopefully lead to greater educational initiatives and internship opportunities for UM SPH students. It’s clear that we have much to gain when we learn about health from international perspectives.