Vaccines, Vaccinations, and NLM

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?

Nursing and Libraries – Powerful Forces in Motion

This month, NLM joins the Nation in celebrating Black History Month. Libraries play an important role in ensuring equity of access to information. From my career as a nurse, I know that libraries are important vehicles for delivering trusted information. To celebrate my dual allegiances to nursing and libraries, in this post, I am tuning into the voices of Black nurses to learn what libraries mean to them.

Black nurses have made huge contributions to the health and well-being of people and are foundational to the health care system as we know it today. Rhetaugh Dumas, PhD, RN, a psychiatric nurse and academic leader, once served as the deputy director of the NIH’s National Institutes of Mental health (1979-1981). Another psychiatric nurse, Chester A. Woffard, III, MSN, RN was a leading thinker in suicidology, particularly addressing the needs of nurses coping with suicide among colleagues. May L. Wykle, PhD, RN, devised critical intervention strategies for caregivers, with particular attention to self-care needs among minority elders. Loretta Sweet Jemmott, PhD, MSN, RN, is an expert in health promotion and created much of the evidence base for HIV risk-reduction interventions. I’ll bet every one of these nurses used (and still uses) the library often!

I asked some nurse colleagues to reflect on the role libraries have played in their professional and personal lives – and look what I learned!

Linda Burnes Bolton, DrPH, RN, FAAN | Senior Vice President and Chief Health Equity Officer | Cedars-Sinai Health System

Libraries have been my constant go-to place for knowledge and skills to support any task I took on. It was important to me to join a profession that would enable me to read, learn, and be of use to other humans — nursing was the answer to my prayers. Reading in the library and collecting journals from around the world was a way to learn about life, humans, and nurture my sense of purpose to be of use to others. Libraries are full of stories about human caring; they are a safe place to gain knowledge and to explore and imagine life’s possibilities. I treasure my memories of being in the aisles of public and private libraries in schools, after school, and now accessing the wise words and secrets held by libraries electronically.

Sheldon D. Fields, PhD, RN, CRNP, FNP-BC, AACRN, FAANP, FNAP, FAAN | Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion Research Professor | The Pennsylvania State University College of Nursing

As a healthcare professional who is also a researcher, educator, and health policy specialist, I have leveraged the resources of the NLM many times. As an HIV prevention research scientist, I rely heavily on the biomedical literature databases such as PubMed to keep up to date on the research literature and for dissemination of my own work. As a nursing educator, the NLM training resources and courses on how to use various databases, as well as resources such as MedlinePlus and DailyMed for drug information have been most beneficial in my work with nursing students. The NLM supported National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology is also a reliable source for all things health policy related. Having such reliable, up to date, and accessible resources from the NLM is critically important to all facets of my career. 

Paule V. Joseph, PhD, MS, FNP-BC, CTN-B, FAAN | Lasker Clinical Research Scholar Tenure Track Investigator | NIH Distinguished Scholar | Acting Chief, Section on Sensory Science and Metabolism Unit (SenSMet) | Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research (DICBR), National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) | Biobehavioral Branch, National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR)

During my PhD program, I realized how critical the library and librarians were in my scientific journey. The librarian at the UPenn Biomedical Library — who was also a nurse — played a crucial role in my PhD trajectory. It was the first time I had met a nurse who was also a librarian, and her intimate knowledge of nursing and the scientific literature helped me a lot. In my role as Principal Investigator, the librarians at NIH have been integral to the development of my lab as I have developed my clinical protocols and conducted literature searches for systematic reviews and meta-analysis. I have even co-authored papers with them. In addition, they are always available to train and share new tools to streamline the research process. The librarians have been very helpful in teaching the fellows and students in my lab about databases and guidelines to conducting reviews. When COVID-19 started and reports about COVID’s toll on taste and smell began to emerge, the NIH librarian (who knew what my lab studied) reached out and helped us tremendously by curating the literature on that topic. I am still using those resources as I develop a COVID-19 taste and smell long-hauler study.

Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN | President and CEO | National League for Nursing

As a nurse working on my doctorate, I had the opportunity to spend a summer in Washington, DC working with a Senator on many health-related issues. During that time, the Library of Congress became my refuge as I worked on my dissertation section on leadership and mentoring. Resources from the Congressional Library helped me understand the power of mentoring and recognize that nurses were sometimes left behind in terms of the mentoring process. Throughout my career, I’ve been inspired by the graciousness and generosity of spirit in people saying, “I see something in you that perhaps you can’t see in yourself.” But I know that I have been able to recognize this through what I learned at that beautiful, wonderful place called the Congressional Library. The library is where the literature revealed secrets to say, “Look at how fortunate you are to have been mentored all of your life.”

Monique Powell, MSN, RN | Nurse Manager, Cardiac Intensive Care Unit | Children’s National Medical Center

I think back on my freshman year at Howard University and one of the most memorable moments occurred in the Founders Library. I remember the first time I walked through the doors I felt this incredible sense of belonging and history. The library was named Founders in honor of the 17 men that help to found Howard University. This building holds an incredible collection of history for African Americans, and I felt privileged to be able to sit down at the tables and walk through the stacks of books. I had an assignment to research how the African American community has interacted with the medical community. As I researched this topic and used the microfiche machine to view documents, papers, and letters, I remember feeling that I had access to history in a way that I never had before. I remember coming across a personal check signed by Ruby Dee and Ozzy Davis sent to the Howard University School of Medicine to support the students — a piece of history that still moves me so many years later. My experience that day has stayed with me and encourages me to continue the work I am doing in health care and for my community. I am a proud graduate of an Historically Black College and University and feel honored to be able to serve my community as a nurse.

Asia L. Reed MSN, RN, CPN | Professional Development Specialist | Nursing Education and Professional Development | Children’s National Medical Center

The library has helped shape my educational destiny in so many ways. I have appreciated the academic library both online and in-person throughout my undergraduate and graduate nursing programs. The library offers free educational resources, caters to specific research needs, provides space for meeting with others, and supports personal and professional growth. Having recently graduated with my master’s degree in nursing education, the library contributed to my success by providing access to a variety of education resources and online databases that supported my needs. The articles I chose were directed toward my learning styles, which had a positive impact on my academic achievements. As a novice nurse educator, the library continues to play an important resource in my career path and for my pediatric nurse residents.

Reneè Roberts-Turner, DHA, MSN, RN, NE-BC, CPHQ | Director, The Department of Nursing Science, Professional Practice, and Quality Magnet® Program Director | Children’s National Hospital | Assistant Professor of Pediatrics | The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

What I always loved most about being in the library is the quiet and calm I felt as soon as I walked through the doors. During my senior year of college, my mentor (who was an employee within the University of Virginia Wise Library) heavily influenced my decision to use my bachelor’s degree in Biology to pursue Nursing instead of medicine. I spent many hours reading about healthcare careers, in various books and journals, reading articles using the microfiche machine, and concluded Nursing was the profession for me. I also spent a significant amount of my time at Marymount University’s Emerson G. Reinsch Library, where I was introduced to the Washington Research Library Consortium and benefitted from the ability to borrow materials from other academic libraries in the Washington, DC area. As I pursued my doctoral degree via online classes, I felt the same satisfaction with the electronic library format. Although I’m not physically in the library, whenever I log on to the electronic library, I still feel a sense of quiet calmness.

Linda D. Scott, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FNAP, FAAN | Dean and Professor | University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing

Those who knew me as a child can attest that I always wanted to be a nurse. My earliest professional inspiration was Florence Nightingale, whom I mimicked as I provided nursing care to my dolls and even tried to replicate her uniform by wearing a blanket that served as a cape. My information came from books through my neighborhood Bookmobile. An astute Bookmobile librarian noted my hunger for learning and encouraged me to explore more about nursing at the public library. That’s where I learned a more complete history about the nursing profession and discovered a wider representation of nurses, including some who looked like me. Learning about Mary Eliza Mahoney and Mary Elizabeth Carnegie, and later Hattie Bessent and Rhetaugh Dumas—along with other nurses of color whose footprints are evident in the profession—turned my emulation of the nurses I admired into a belief in the possibility for myself. Library resources have not only been invaluable to me throughout my education and career, but they helped me see myself on the “path we tread.”

Ora Strickland, PhD, RN, FAAN | Dean and Professor | Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences | Florida International University

I remember my parent’s library. It had encyclopedias, short stories, poems, and even medical books. Whenever any of us got sick, my mother would run to her medical books, and I took notice. All those books piqued my interest in becoming a nurse. Throughout my career, I’ve found that university libraries serve nurses very well because the librarians are good. I’ve been fortunate to frequent university libraries where librarians collaborate with the schools of nursing to set up library committees to review the library holdings in health care and related fields to make sure that their holdings are adequate and address the needs of nursing students. One library I have visited often throughout my career is NLM. I’d spend hours and hours at NLM; it’s a wonderful place. I also met some real scholars when I was at NLM. That’s what I miss most with the rise of the internet – because a library is also a community meeting place. It’s a place to meet other wonderful scholars and some of those scholars can end up being collaborators.

Retired Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, PhD, RN, FAAN | Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer | University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth

During my graduate education, particularly my doctoral program, libraries became my lifeline and my “go-to” place to help me problem solve and find resources that I couldn’t identify myself. Librarians gave me ideas that I hadn’t thought of and became my alternate support system outside of my department – and outside of my profession. Libraries have been very integrated into all the work I’ve done and the positions I’ve held throughout my career. Librarians deserve a lot of credit for my academic and professional success.

Mia Waldron, PhD, MSN-Ed, NPD-BC | Nurse Scientist, Nursing Science, Professional Practice & Quality | Children’s National Hospital | Assistant Professor of Pediatrics | George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Libraries were a steady feature in my life. I spent childhood summers in the Brooklyn Public Library reading fiction; I worked as a clerk in the Cardozo Law Library as a teen; and decided on the sorority to join based on histories read at the Schomburg Library. The decision to change my college major from pre-medicine to nursing was made after poring over career data found in the health sciences library over 30 years ago. The importance of knowledge, as a nurse, has proven invaluable throughout my career. In most instances, my first instinct is to turn to a library.


What a journey! Libraries are shaping the future of nursing and health care, and these nurses give us a glimpse into how all libraries, including the NLM, resonate with the dreams of nurses and provide support and skills to move forward in practice.

I am grateful to my colleagues for sharing their perspectives, and so proud of what the merging of these two forces — nursing and libraries — bring to the health of the world!

How have libraries influenced you and your career?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – Awesome and Inspiring

Today, our country honors the birth, life, and dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Recently, I had the opportunity to take my mom to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. We observed social distancing and mask wearing. While the weather may have been chilly, the atmosphere was filled with warmth and with hope.

Mom and I walked through the Mountain of Despair to the Stone of Hope and read many of the phrases chosen by a special “Council of Historians” to reflect Dr. King’s life and teachings of justice, democracy, hope and love. I was grateful that someone who is such a giant to me and so many others all over the world held perch as a monolith overlooking the Tidal Basin, facing the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial, with the Washington Monument in sight. I was most struck with the rendering of Dr. King’s gaze, which looked not out at the monuments to great leaders, but directly towards the people milling below the statue – looking at those left to continue his legacy.

This is a special place for contemplation and reflection. Dr. King’s words, “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope” seem particularly relevant today as we move through the global COVID-19 pandemic. There are many reasons to despair – economic problems, health challenges, and loss of loved ones. As Director of the National Library of Medicine, I often think about how we can keep our scientists and society strong by serving as a stone of hope. NLM provides high-quality information to help researchers advance their understanding of the SARS-COV2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19), and discover new vaccines and treatments. We provide relevant, evidence-based, and actionable information for the public to guide their everyday health behaviors.

As I read one of the inscriptions, I was struck by a parallel to contemporary expressions about how to overcome the consequences of the pandemic and the role we can play to advance change. Dr. King said in a 1968 speech that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” While not specifically speaking of the moral universe, how many times during this pandemic have we heard about the importance of bending the curve of new coronavirus cases? I was struck both by the visual cue of a bending curve, and the idea that caring for the health of the public, through information and individual action, aligns well with the concept of the moral universe.

I take pride in the fact that NLM and its research and information services – at their core —are of service to the public. I hadn’t quite thought of our efforts as part of the moral universe. Thanks to an inspirational visit honoring a beacon of light, I have found new meaning in the work that we do for science and society.

What inspires you? What broader purpose have you found in your efforts?

Holiday Greetings from the NLM Director!

I consider myself an upbeat person and am most upbeat during the winter holiday season. I’ve always been drawn to this time of year – it’s cold, often snowy, and brings many traditions I love, including spiritual customs, family gatherings, fabulous food, and gift-giving. It also brings about an annual pause in the lives of many people, and an opportunity to celebrate the many holiday observances that take place across various cultures in the world.

This year I’m struck by the importance of light as a symbol across many religions and cultures, such as the Festival of Lights celebrated by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs known as Diwali; the Jewish Festival of Lights known as Hanukkah, or Chanukah; the Christian tradition of Christmas; or the celebration of African and African American culture, known as Kwanzaa.

Light is almost a universal symbol.

Light represents hope, transcendence over darkness, and knowledge. We experience light through lamps, candles, in the flames of a fire, through the brilliance of the sun, and the twinkles of color that appear on holiday decorations. In some religious traditions, light represents spiritual power or guidance. In common parlance, light reflects joy and invites engagement. Light stands in a positive contrast to the short days and long nights of winter experienced in the Northern Hemisphere, where I’ve spent most of my life.

Light also serves as an indication of illumination – the increased clarity, insight and awareness about situations and ideas. NLM serves as an illuminating force in the world – bringing knowledge to bear to increase enlightenment and awareness about complex biomedical situations and ideas. I’ll bet you haven’t often connected the idea of holiday lights and NLM resources — bear with me — it really works!

Information alone – unread and unused – is not enough, just as the benefits of light are limited when the light is obstructed or not in view. This idea holds true for NLM resources too.  

As a leader in biomedical and health data science research and the world’s largest biomedical library, NLM’s research and information services are most valuable when they are readily available to those who need it. Thanks to our NLM team, we continue to be able to provide free and unencumbered access to information to people from around the world.

Individuals perceive light through a complex physiological and psychological process and their reaction to light builds on history and prior experiences. When NLM users discover new articles or preprints through our search process and read them, they do so against the backdrop of their own life experiences and knowledge – adding even more value to research, both new and old! Finally, one of the greatest things I love about light is that it can be experienced and perceived by many without being diminished. So too for our NLM resources that serve many without ever being exhausted!

This year, I am observing and celebrating the Christmas holiday and want to share the light of this holiday season with all of you, and particularly with my son, who is far away from me in Seattle. This season, many of us will be connecting with loved ones near and far through the light of a computer screen!

Certainly, the challenges of 2020 have made it ever so much more important to enjoy the spark that friends and family near and far provide. Please share your special views on light with each other and with the readers of this blog.

Happy holidays from ours to yours!

Above and Beyond!

As I have said before, I take every opportunity to sing the praises of the 1,700 men and women who work at NLM and demonstrate their commitment to advance our important mission. Every day, NLM staff serve science and society by transforming information into knowledge, which enables researchers, clinicians, and people around the world use a wealth of biomedical data to improve health. 

This month NLM honored our resilient and resourceful staff with an awards ceremony that looked a little different than previous years. Usually, we host an annual ceremony in the Natcher Auditorium on the NIH campus to allow staff to gather and celebrate the accomplishments of their peers.

While our awards celebration was different this year because we weren’t able to join together in person due to COVID-19, it still gave me great pleasure to recognize and honor the many individuals and teams at NLM who have shown outstanding commitment and accomplishment through special acts of service, exemplary performance, and crucial moments of leadership. This year, our awards were presented to honor a variety of achievements, but most notably, to honor the incredible resiliency and productivity of our workforce since most NLM staff entered an environment of maximum telework in March.

Before I share more about the awards, I want to take a moment to extend my deep appreciation for all the technical staff at NLM who have ensured that NLM continues to meet its mission of serving scientists and society across the globe. Our staff has worked tirelessly to make certain that NLM continues to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic seamlessly. They’ve done it all – from making sure that all NLM staff can continue to work from home during these challenging times, to guaranteeing that people around the world continue to have access to NLM’s suite of offerings such as ClinicalTrials.gov, GenBank, PubMed, and PubMed Central.

This year, we recognized 584 staff for an array of accomplishments. We honored many individuals and teams for their special acts of service and exemplary performance including the design, implementation, and evaluation of the trans-NLM Data Science @NLM program (recognized as a model program across the federal sector), rapid response to the sharing of molecular data and biomedical literature related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and maintenance of library and data center operations in a safe and stable manner during the challenging COVID-19 pandemic.

We applauded staff who provided consistent, results-focused strategic leadership associated with the restructuring of NLM’s more than 8,000-member Network of the National Library of Medicine, launched a new version of PubMed and phase one of the NIH Preprint Pilot. We recognized our scientists who used machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithm research to support infectious disease detection from clinical images, and staff who assisted in delivering technology and administrative support services to ensure the continuity of NLM operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We also honored individuals with landmark years of service, including 16 people who have worked in the federal government for 30 years or more. They were joined by 29 staffers with 20 years of service and another 20 with 10 years — representing years upon years of experience and dedication to public service. Their work has made a lasting difference to NLM and to those who use our resources.

In addition to honoring the recipients themselves, these awards also bring important recognition to the talents and contributions of NLM across the biomedical research enterprise.

As the year comes to a close, I want to recognize every member of our team at NLM for their momentous efforts that have kept NLM at the top of our game by demonstrating our ability to be resilient, relevant, and reinvent the way we do our work, particularly in response to the challenges presented by COVID-19. Our team at NLM has truly gone above and beyond!

Guest NLM contributors: Sarah Ashley Jolly, Amy Powers, and Diane Tuncer.