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Jessica Atwell

Master of Public Health


PhD - Completed
4 Years


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United States

Educational/Professional Background

I have bachelor's degrees in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and English from the University of California, Santa Barbara (2005) and a MPH from JHSPH (2011). I finished my PhD in the Department of International Health, Global Disease Epidemiology and Control (GDEC) Program at JHSPH in March 2016. Before returning to grad school, I worked for the California Department of Public Health (2005-2010). While there I focused on molecular epidemiology of food borne outbreaks as part of CDC's PulseNet program (2005-2007) and then on characterizing vaccine preventable disease cases, clusters and outbreaks in the state, primarily pertussis, pneumococcal disease and meningococcal disease (2007-2010). During my MPH year at Hopkins (2010-2011) I focused on Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology and completed a certificate program in Vaccine Science and Policy. My Capstone project, conducted with Drs. Neal Halsey and Dan Salmon at Hopkins and Dr. Saad Omer at Emory, dealt with pertussis in California including the 2010 outbreak and examined the spatial temporal relationship of pertussis cases to Personal Belief Exemptions to vaccination in the state. We've since expanded this work into a publication. After completing my MPH I interned and worked for Gavi (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization) in Geneva, Switzerland and PATH in Ferney-Voltaire, France on issues surrounding new vaccine introduction, immunization data quality, and cold chain systems.

Research Interests or Career Goals

I am primarily interested in infectious disease epidemiology, specifically the interplay between infectious diseases and vaccines over time. I am also interested in maternal immunization and new vaccine introduction as well as optimization of immunization programs and systems. I started my PhD at Hopkins in 2011 in the Global Disease Epidemiology and Control program within the Department of International Health. My thesis focused on respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the most common viral cause of lower respiratory infections, and a disease that we hope to have vaccines for in the near future. We studied how exposure to malaria and other infectious diseases in pregnancy may impact active and passive (maternal) immunization for RSV by measuring transplacental transfer of RSV antibodies from mother to fetus among women in Papua New Guinea (PNG). We also investigated the epidemiology of respiratory infections in early childhood in coastal areas of PNG, and helped answer questions about the design of phase III efficacy trials for RSV vaccines. My thesis advisor is Dr. Ruth Karron and this project was a collaboration with the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research and research teams at the University of Melbourne and Case Western Reserve University, as well as colleagues at Fundacion INFANT in Argentina.

Why I Chose Hopkins

I chose Hopkins for my MPH for several reasons. I was drawn to the caliber and number of faculty members and centers here, and the cutting edge research that is being conducted in my field of interest. As a student interested in both infectious diseases and vaccines, I felt that Hopkins had more to offer me than other schools of public health in those areas and was excited about the opportunity to complete specific coursework in vaccine science and policy. I also felt the MPH program was more flexible than other programs I looked into; it was important to me that I had the ability to tailor my MPH coursework to best fit my interests and needs. Of course there are requirements, but there are multiple options for many of the required topic areas and a good deal of room for electives in the MPH curriculum here - and that was important to me. I also spent a good deal of time talking to current and former students at the schools I was interested in, to learn about the benefits and challenges of various programs and find out what schools would be a good fit for me. I also visited each of the schools at least once and would encourage any prospective students out there to do the same. I applied to stay here for my PhD because the experiences I had during my MPH were so positive. I found it easy to connect with faculty and get involved in interesting work -- and there are so many amazing opportunities for students at this school. Importantly, I really felt like the GDEC program was a good fit for my specific research interests, and although my years in the program were challenging, I enjoyed my experiences as a student at JHSPH tremendously.

Last updated 01/09/2020

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