U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Names Dr. Guthrie S. Birkhead as Chair of National Vaccine Advisory Committee

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 10, 2008) – Dr. Guthrie S. Birkhead, Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Public Health for the New York State Department of Health, has been named Chair of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC) of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

NVAC is the principle federal advisory group on policies promoting safe and effective vaccines. NVAC recommends ways to achieve prevention of human infectious diseases through the development of vaccines and provides direction to achieve prevention of adverse reactions to vaccines.

"We congratulate Dr. Birkhead on being named as Chair of this national committee," said state Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "The benefits of immunization for people of all ages are among the most significant public health achievements of our time. Vaccines have eradicated smallpox, eliminated poliovirus in the United States, and significantly reduced the number of cases of measles, diphtheria, rubella, pertussis and other diseases. Through Dr. Birkhead's leadership and direction, and his many years of experience in public health, we know that he will guide the Committee in making important recommendations regarding vaccine and vaccine safety which will be critical in protecting ourselves, our families and our communities from disease."

The functions of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC) include studying and recommending ways to encourage the availability of an adequate supply of safe and effective vaccination products nationwide, and to recommend research priorities and other measures the Director of the National Vaccine Program (NVP) should take to enhance the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

"Vaccinations are among the most beneficial and successful public health measures," said Dr. Birkhead. "Getting immunized is a life-protecting effort, beginning at birth and continuing throughout life. Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to infection, so it's important that parents make sure their children are properly immunized.

"Currently, the Committee is working on recommendations to promote vaccination of adolescents and adults, finance the delivery of vaccinations and vaccine safety. The Committee will play an important role in providing input into the development of the National Vaccine Plan," he said.

The members and chair of the 17-member NVAC are appointed to rotating four-year terms by the Director of the NVP, in consultation with the National Academy of Sciences. Members are appointed from among individuals who are engaged in vaccine research or the manufacture of vaccines; or who are physicians, members of parent organizations concerned with immunizations, or representatives of state or local health agencies or public health organizations.

Dr. Birkhead is the chief public health physician in the state Health Department. He oversees the activities of DOH's four public health centers and two public health offices: the AIDS Institute, Center for Community Health, Center for Environmental Health, Wadsworth Laboratories, Office of Public Health Practice and the Health Emergency Preparedness Program. In addition to his work at the Department, he is also an Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the School of Public Health, University at Albany and the founding Director of DOH's Preventive Medicine Residency Program.

Dr. Birkhead joined the state Health Department in 1988, and served most recently as Director of the AIDS Institute and Director of the Center for Community Health. He was appointed Deputy Commissioner in 2007.

Dr. Birkhead is a graduate of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Epidemic Intelligence Service and Preventive Medicine Residency programs, and is board-certified in internal medicine and preventive medicine. He holds a medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine and a master's degree in public health from the John Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health.