Captain Dr Jennifer McQuiston joined us at the Congress last month to discuss the importance of animal vaccines and diseases that start at animal level. As Acting Director for the Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology in the CDC, her insights are particularly useful! We were glad to meet her during the event for a conversation about her perspective on One Health and preventing diseases in humans through animal care. We are grateful to Dr McQuiston for her time, and hope that you enjoy the interview!
Introducing Dr McQuiston
Dr McQuiston’s role, like many of her colleagues’, is quite a mouthful, but she kindly set out her full title for us below! Her experience ranges from mpox to COVID-19, and her background as a veterinarian has proved useful to these challenges.
Why animal vaccines?
We know that animal vaccines have the potential to reduce animal morbidity and mortality, but what about the human effects? For Dr McQuiston, this area needs greater emphasis.
“The use of animal vaccines to protect public health or human health is an area that we really need to give a lot more discussion to.”
The “tantalising” possibility is that for zoonotic diseases we have “different intervention pathways” that we don’t have in purely human diseases. Many of the “same technologies” are involved, but sometimes the regulatory and approval pathways are “shorter and more direct”.
“I think that exploring, and in some ways exploiting those, to make sure that we can prevent diseases in animals, to me is the more viable pathway.”
The link that Dr McQuiston draws between animal and human health sounds very much like a One Health connection, so we asked about what this means to her. She suggests that “something like 75% of emerging diseases in humans start in animals”. This “hammers home” the importance of studying animals and their environments to understand the “transmission dynamic”.
“To me a One Health approach means that you’re bringing together veterinarians, and physicians, and manufacturers of animal vaccines and human vaccines, and you’re talking and having a dialogue.”
Through this dialogue, Dr McQuiston believes we equip ourselves to “drive human prevention” by looking at prevention in animals.
Collaboration is key
It may sound like a cliché, but collaboration is a recurring theme in our interviews, with many of our experts emphasising the importance of bringing together a diverse community to learn from each other. We asked Dr McQuiston about how her experience reflects this. She explains that this is her first World Vaccine Congress (we certainly hope it won’t be her last!) and how she sees a “real need” to unite people who are “part of public health problems” to collectively discuss solutions.
“If I can drive the conversation to how do we prevent the outbreaks from happening, my job end up being a lot easier! I think that collaboration, that conversation, is so important.”
With the confusion and contention around the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked how important it is to understand where a disease has come from. Dr McQuiston thinks it’s “very important” to do this research, and to involve scientists from different disciplines to play to their strengths. She refers to the mpox outbreak as a “tremendous example” of the need to identify reservoirs of zoonotic diseases.
Dr McQuiston calls for continued work in this area, particularly after her experience working on mpox reservoir identification.
“Once you know the species that’s responsible you can start to have conversations about how people protect themselves.”
Coming to the Congress
When we asked Dr McQuiston about her reasons for coming, she shared that her experience collaborating on a paper that “brought together people from a lot of different disciplines and areas” introduced her to Dr Cyril Gay. He led a panel that Dr McQuiston joined at the Congress. She was excited to meet people and discuss “really common passions” , so we hope this was fruitful!
Thank you to Dr McQuiston for her time and enthusiastic contributions to the conversation. We hope she will join us for future events!