When Nina Masters was in college, she envisioned a career developing vaccines and making them easier to use around the world. But during her senior year at Princeton, a meningitis outbreak on campus changed her thinking.
“I realized during the outbreak that the vaccine only matters if people take it,” Masters said. “I pivoted in that moment.”
Masters, an infectious diseases epidemiologist, started studying vaccine hesitancy in graduate school, at first from a mathematical perspective that modeled how outbreaks could spread in communities with low vaccine uptake. During a fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, she was deployed to places struggling with vaccine hesitancy, giving her the chance to see the issue through a public health lens. The experience gave her insights into both why people might distrust vaccines and the targeted approaches necessary to overcome that distrust.
“Different communities, different geographies, different age groups — there are a lot of reasons for non-vaccination,” Masters said.
Masters completed her fellowship with the CDC’s renowned Epidemic Intelligence Service — the same team that responded to her school’s meningitis outbreak — and is now the program lead for mumps at CDC.
For a time, Masters painted murals professionally, and she likes to apply that creative side to her public health work. Are there new ways to model infectious disease outbreaks? How can we improve communication about vaccines to make people willing to roll up their sleeves?
“There’s unfortunately not a one-size-fits-all solution to vaccine hesitancy,” she said.
— Andrew Joseph