Vaccines, Vaccinations, and NLM

Featured image for the COVID-19 blog post showing an illustration of an injection into a coronavirus cell

As I write this message, I am one of the more than 25 million people in the U.S. who have received both doses of the coronavirus vaccine. I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on February 4, and my second dose on February 25. NIH is distributing vaccines to employees based on priority group following general guidance from the CDC, but I became eligible first through my health plan. I’m sharing my story with you today and highlighting how the NLM has and still plays a role in vaccines and vaccinations during this time of the COVID pandemic.

Getting a spot in the COVID vaccine line will become one of the shared stories of this pandemic. As story tellers, we will likely exchange tales of how each of us got that prized place, particularly for those of us who received the vaccine in the first few weeks of distribution.

Here’s my story: As a resident of Washington, DC, and someone who is over 65 years of age, I became eligible pretty early – January 11. At the time, DC released appointment slots through its public web site. What if you don’t have a computer, typing skills, or access to the internet? Can the public library help here? Of course! In addition to providing internet access and coaching support from library staff, some public libraries are becoming sites for the distribution of the COVID vaccine. Each Monday and every other Thursday, as more appointment slots were released, I dutifully logged into the DC vaccination registration website, entering details and hitting refresh. Unfortunately, the available slots ran out quickly with each attempt. It was indeed frustrating. Through my health plan, I was entered into a vaccine registration list. As an NIH employee, I got my name on a list too. I was probably number 15,543 at NIH since I am healthy and able to work remotely, but I became eligible through my health plan in late January and was spared the déjà vu of type, refresh, repeat!

NLM played a big role in helping get this vaccine to me and people around the world.

We played a key role in making sure the genomic basis for vaccines and therapeutics were freely available to the public. In January 2020, NLM released the first fully annotated SARS-CoV-2 gene sequence to the public through our GenBank database, the world’s largest database of publicly available genetic sequences. Because NLM maintains extensive data repositories of nucleic acid sequences – the building blocks of genes – researchers were able to search NLM’s entire Sequence Read Archive (SRA) to better understand and characterize the biological properties of SARS-CoV-2 in record time. 

NLM created a dedicated website, the Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 data hub, for researchers to search, retrieve, and analyze data for more than 150,000 digital genomic sequences of the virus. In addition, we partnered with publishers around the world to make available for computerized data mining the full text of over 100,000 articles related to the coronavirus, helping scientist to identify key biological targets. Our ClinicalTrials.gov repository includes over 400 studies designed to develop, evaluate, and determine the effects of various COVID-19 vaccines.

Screen shot of MedlinePlus COVID-19 webpage

Our MedlinePlus consumer health information site contains specialized information about COVID-19 vaccines, clinical studies, and the vaccine distribution process. MedlinePlus helps people find information (in English and Spanish) about the COVID-19 vaccination program in the United States, and is a resource where people can find reliable, up-to-date information about how to protect themselves and their loved ones against infection while awaiting the vaccine. Linking to health information from the NIH and other federal government agencies such as the FDA and CDC, MedlinePlus provides access to fact sheets, statistics and research, journal articles, and even videos to help people learn more about COVID-19 vaccines.

What makes NLM unique is not just that it contributed to the process that helped make vaccines available, it’s that NLM has been helping scientists, clinicians and the public understand, prevent, manage, and cope with infectious diseases and health problems for nearly 200 years.

To Prevent Influenza!, 1918
National Library of Medicine #101580385

NLM identifies, selects, and archives a remarkable volume of content documenting these pandemics, from the scientific journals to the public health announcements. We were here 100 years ago, preserving information about the 1918 influenza pandemic, and we’re on track to be here in 100 years when future scholars and members of the public want to peruse the records of the COVID-19 pandemic and other health challenges faced by society.

The NLM serves scientists and society by providing trusted health information to understand, prevent and treat illness in support of public health. How can we help you?

Author: Patti Brennan

Director, US National Library of Medicine

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