DIAS Assistant Professor Keith Andrew Meyers receives Marie Curie Individual Fellowship

On September 1st 2020 assistant professor Keith Andrew Meyers will initiate The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action 2019 research project “Evaluating the Long-Run Socioeconomic Effects of Childhood Vaccination” (Valvax). The purpose of this project is to measure whether exposure to childhood vaccines affect socioeconomic outcomes later in life.

The Valvax-project will combine the University of Southern Denmark’s research expertise on the indirect effects of vaccines and focus in economic history to analyze the Salk trials and provide the first-ever study on the long-term socioeconomic effects of childhood vaccinations. Meyers finds that most of the research on the effects of vaccines focus on the direct first order effects on public health, but little is known about potential secondary effects. He states:

“There is a strong link in the economics literature between early life health and later life educational and income outcomes. It is plausible that children with greater exposure to vaccines have healthier childhoods. This then results in them doing better in school and accumulating more educational capital throughout their lives.”

Furthermore, Valvax has taken a strong topicality due the current global health crisis. About this Meyers says:

“The goal of this project is to better measure the long run social savings attributable to childhood vaccination campaigns. If the benefits of public investments are not salient to policy makers and leaders, then scarce governmental resources might be reallocated towards other uses. We are witnessing the effects of this with the current coronavirus outbreak. Especially in the U.S., though austerity policies have led to underfunding of medical preparedness in the EU. Countries exposed to SARS in 2006 appear to have learned from their past experiences prepared their public health infrastructure for potential in epidemiological events.”

DIAS Chair of Health Science Christine Stabell Benn will be acting as a co-supervisor. As a Professor of Global Health at SDU and the establisher of the Research Center for Vitamins and Vaccines her primary research focus is to document the general affects of vaccines and vitamins on the immune system. Her expectations for the project are hopeful:

“I think it’s an exciting project. Keith has access to exciting historical data on the introduction of oral polio vaccine in the U.S. It is a vaccine that we are getting more and more evidence of having beneficial nonspecific effects – our studies from Africa show that it can reduce the risk among dying from infectious diseases by about 20%. It will be valuable to gain knowledge of its long-term consequences in the US. Including whether having participated in the early studies of oral polio vaccine also affects people’s general attitude to vaccines later in life.”

Benn will help provide medical insights that would not necessarily be available to social scientists. About this interdisciplinary collaboration Benn comments: 

“It is exciting and instructive to work across disciplines. Literally, sometimes it feels like learning a new language. It makes it more challenging on some points, but I have no doubt that there is something cross-fertilizing happening.”

About Valvax

Valvax will combine research in the fields of economics and clinical sciences to ask the overarching research question: What are the long-run social benefits attributable to early childhood access and experience with vaccines?

In order to answer this question, Meyers will use the historical 1954 Salk polio vaccine trial and detailed individual level microdata to study the socio-effects of childhood vaccination. With over 1.8 million child participants ages 6-10, the Salk trials were one of the largest medical trials ever conducted. While the direct benefits of herd immunity and reductions in infectious disease are well studied, researchers have not studied the potential long-run effects of increased vaccine coverage on socioeconomic outcomes. Furthermore, economic historians have not studied the Salk trial and its effects. Economists have established a strong connection between early childhood health and measures of economic wellbeing later in adulthood. Additionally, medical researchers have found that vaccines can broadly affect overall health.

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions

The MSCA is a research fellowship, which encourages individuals to work in other countries and strive to make the whole world a learning environment. The goal is to benefit the wider European economy by the collaboration and sharing of ideas between different industrial sectors and research disciplines. 

For more information about the MSCA, please refer to the European Union Website.