Grey Matters: What the History of Vaccines Can Tell Us About the Future

Wednesday, Jan 13, 2021
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
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Join the Science & Entertainment Exchange for its First Event of 2021!

Grey Matters: What the History of Vaccines Can Tell Us About the Future

Wednesday, Jan. 13
4-5 p.m. EST


In record time, the world has three COVID-19 vaccines but our resumption of normal life hangs on the success of making and distributing hundreds of millions of doses. Will people take them? There are also serious equity issues as to who has access to vaccine. Asking Americans to place their trust in a brand new technology demands clear communication about what we know and what we don’t. And let’s face it, science’s track record for getting this kind of messaging right hasn’t always been great.

Our present day conundrums are not new. Our grandparents faced similar quagmires and human nature was the same one hundred years ago. Join us as we lay out what’s at stake as we look at examples from our public health history that show where we’ve gone wrong and where we’ve gone right, and what the past can teach us about 2021.


Ruth Faden is the founder of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, and its director from 1995 until 2016. She is also the Philip Franklin Wagley Professor of Biomedical Ethics. Her research focuses on structural injustice theory and public policy. Currently Ruth is working at the intersection of structural justice and the COVID-19 response, primarily in vaccine allocation and prioritization and K-12 education.

Howard Markel is a physician, medical educator, and historian of medicine, the George E. Wantz Professor of the History of Medicine, and a member of the National Academy of Medicine. He has provided federal and state public health policy makers with a historical perspective on the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic in light of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, and served on Team B, an expert panel convened to advise the director of the CDC during the pandemic.

Reed V. Tuckson is Managing Director at Tuckson Health Connections, LLC, and a member of the Berman Institute’s National Advisory Board. He also worked at UnitedHealth Group as the Executive Vice President and Chief of Medical Affairs and was the Senior Vice President of Professional Standards at the American Medical Association and the President of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.

The Science & Entertainment Exchange, a program of the National Academy of Sciences, connects entertainment industry professionals with top scientists from across the country to create a synergy between accurate science and engaging entertainment. Chartered by Congress in 1863 under an Act signed by Abraham Lincoln to provide crucial scientific advice to the nation, the National Academy of Sciences, a private, nonprofit institution, is uniquely positioned to draw on the expertise of thousands of men and women who have distinguished themselves in their respective fields in science.