Q&A With Ronika Alexander-Parrish, RN, Clinical Scientist at Pfizer

Pfizer and Morgan State University launched the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) Fellowship in Vaccines Medical Development to expand the number of minority practitioners in medical development. Ronika Alexander Parrish, RN, a clinical scientist at Pfizer, spoke with Pharm Exec about the program and how it plans to achieve its goals.

(Pharm Exec:)What inspired you to get involved with founding the fellowship program?

Parrish: A constant challenge for vaccine developers has been to make sure that vaccines make it into the arms of all patients who can benefit from them. The COVID-19 pandemic made plain for the entire world that this is not happening. Marginalized groups–particularly Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic–have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

As a clinical scientist in Pfizer’s Vaccines Medical Development, Scientific, and Clinical Affairs group, I knew that I could better serve our patients by working to include more diverse voices and perspectives in the work we do. As a Black woman, with extensive experience in biopharma, and as a DrPH student myself, I am fully aware of the added value a fellowship like this provides all stakeholders.

I was inspired by the knowledge that the fellowship would allow me and Pfizer to bring talent into the organization who are trained to be leaders in the public health sector, have expertise in health equity and health disparities, and have trained within a health justice-focused framework like that offered at Morgan State University.

(Pharm Exec:)What are the main goals of the program?

Parrish: The 2-year program is designed to prepare public health doctoral students/candidates from minority serving institutions, particularly HBCUs, for biopharma careers in Vaccines Medical Development. It is an opportunity for fellows to gain further knowledge and skills that will enable them to propose strategies for health improvement and elimination of health inequities; integrate knowledge, approaches, methods, values, and potential contributions from multiple professions and systems in addressing public health problems; and promote inclusion and equity within public health programs, policies, and systems.

(Pharm Exec:) What areas of unmet medical need will the fellowship potentially identify?

Parrish: The fellowship will influence, in a positive way, the conditions under which patients receive care. This program will enable the candidates to bring in new approaches to medical development and perspectives on vaccine-related real-world data and analysis, with the goal of providing evidence for use by policy makers, scientists, and the public that reflects the lived experience of all patients. Ultimately, we hope it will contribute to decreasing disparate negative patient outcomes.

(Pharm Exec:) Why are programs like this important?

Parrish: There are fewer than five HBCUs with DrPH programs in the United States. Partnerships like this with HBCUs break down barriers and help shape the health sector for generations to come. They amplify the voices of patients and health care professionals, and significantly increase the chances of success in patient outcomes.

(Pharm Exec:) How important are training and networking opportunities in the Pharma industry?

Parrish: Training and networking opportunities are critical for a successful career in pretty much every sector, and the pharmaceutical industry is no different. Innovation is the engine behind breakthroughs that change patients’ lives. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It requires complex skills and expertise, creativity, and collaboration. Our fellowship is designed to deliver on each of those elements. The pandemic revealed that collaborative efforts across industries and sectors can yield positive public health impact at a global level. The bar for innovation will continue to rise and, as such, so will the need for training and networking opportunities.