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Profile: Former Fogarty Fellow now leads World Health Organization (WHO) disease elimination program
November/ December 2021 | Volume 20 Number 6
By Mariah Felipe
One of the participants in Fogarty’s inaugural cohort of Scholars and Fellows in 2004 didn’t have a well-formed career plan, but serendipity and preparation have led to his success. “I never had a good sense of where I wanted to go,” said Dr. Jose Hagan. “I just saw the opportunities that were immediately in front of me and appreciated where they might take me next.”
Hagan’s global health career path has led him to the CDC. Currently, he is on detail to the WHO’s Europe office, where he is team lead for control and elimination of vaccine-preventable diseases. He credits his Fogarty experience for clarifying his interest in global health. “The fellowship was a very influential part of my early career,” he said. “Once I realized the impact an academic partnership with a host country could have on real public health outcomes, I started on an academic research career in global infectious diseases.”
His initial Fogarty research project was part of a clinical trial by the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership to find ways to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. They found that adding single-dose nevirapine on top of short-course zidovudine was much more likely to lead to undetectable HIV viral load in breastmilk. During his fellowship, Hagan gained knowledge of the fundamentals of lab virology, was exposed to an array of basic epidemiology and public health concepts, and completed some online coursework. But he said the most important benefits occurred in the margins. “I learned so much from networking and just from being exposed to global academic health as a career track.”
In 2011, he traveled to Brazil on a second Fogarty fellowship, this time benefitting from the research partnership between Yale University and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ), Brazil’s leading public health biomedical research institution. There he immersed himself in infectious disease epidemiology and had the opportunity to mentor trainees and Fogarty Scholars as a junior research faculty member.
Since then, Hagan has served in many different roles.
He joined the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service at the height of an Ebola epidemic in West Africa. He soon found himself deployed to a remote corner of Liberia, where he helped lead the investigation of an Ebola cluster in a small village there. “The Ebola epidemic was tragic—but as a young epidemiologist, it was such a formative experience to be in the field and on the front lines of that crisis,” he recalled. “I was just in the right place at the right time.”
In Hagan’s current position, he has helped countries in Europe respond to COVID-19, which has taxed its institutions and created barriers for public health, including routine immunization. “The pandemic has also helped seed a minefield of vaccine misinformation,” Hagan observed. “Together, these factors have made it harder to reach children on the margins who may be chronically left out from the benefit of vaccines.”
Looking back at the nearly two decades of the Fogarty fellowship program, Hagan said its impact has been significant. “It’s led to a new generation of NIH-funded global health researchers. For others—like myself—it provided a foundation in global public health that took us on other paths to leadership.”
Hagan encouraged those considering a global health career to remain flexible. “Be open!” he said. “There's a universe of possible ways a person's career can go. My first Fogarty fellowship was based on basic HIV lab research, but I did not become an HIV virologist, instead I took away core skills, exposure to mentors and learned how clinical trials are done. So, be open to what you can learn from the opportunities you have and watch for what that next step will be because something always leads to something else.”
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