Inci Yildirim, MD, PhD, is a pediatric infectious disease specialist and a vaccinologist whose clinical work focuses on infections and vaccinations in transplant patients.
“These are children who received organ or bone marrow transplants and are immunocompromised. My interest is in how they respond or do not respond to vaccines and how we can maximize the protection against infectious diseases using vaccination in this vulnerable group of children,” she says.
For example, Dr. Yildirim cares for children who went through organ or bone marrow transplantation or received chemotherapy. “Their immune systems are weak and they are prone to infections and then cannot control an infection if they get one,” she explains. “Unfortunately, vaccines don’t work as well in these kids as they do in otherwise healthy children. This requires a different handling of how you give the vaccines, how you protect them from infections, and how you manage an infection if they get one.”
The work, she says, is close to her heart. “These kids have gone or are going through really a hard period; they survive transplant and many other things, and I don’t want an infection to be a limit for their return to normal life similar to other kids,” she says.
The reward of being able to help her patients, Dr. Yildirim adds, is on a global scale. “If you can prevent disease and mortality among kids with vaccines, it is the most successful intervention in medicine in the 20thcentury after clean drinking water,” she says.
An active researcher, she says one of the highlights of her work is that there are always new questions to explore and improvements to make. “Right now in the lab, we are studying how our immune system and our bodies respond to the COVID-19 vaccine,” says Dr. Yildirim, who is an investigator for the multi-institutional Covid-19 Prevention Network’s (CoVPN) Moderna mRNA-1273 clinical trial for children 6 months to 12 years of age.
“I am thankful for all families and children who have been overwhelmingly interested in our study and helping us to find a safe and effective vaccine for our younger ones” she says. "I like working in pediatrics. Children are our future and if you have healthy youth, they will be healthy adults.”
The development of COVID-19 vaccines has been an amazing feat, Dr. Yildirim says. “During the urgency of the pandemic we have used the skills and information we have accumulated to create successful vaccines,” she says. “It’s the product of collaboration among scientists, physicians, patients and most importantly participants in the clinical vaccine trials. I think the paradigm will change with how we work with vaccines going forward. I am very hopeful we will have safe and effective vaccines for many other infectious pathogens in the near future.”
Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital