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Issue 1,569: June 1, 2021

A Tribute to Deborah L. Wexler, MD

Never a Dull Moment:
A Celebration of the Legacy of Deborah L. Wexler, MD
IAC’s beloved founder, Deborah L. Wexler, MD, is turning the leadership of IAC over to Kelly L. Moore, MD, MPH, as she steps into well-earned retirement at the end of June 2021. This Special Edition of IAC Express celebrates Deborah’s legacy and honors her for the countless lives she has saved through her immunization advocacy. It is our privilege to recognize the charismatic compassion, vision, and medical excellence that have exemplified her career.
 
 
 
A Passion for Public Health from the Start
Deborah’s focus on community health began in the 1980s during her family practice residency at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Later, as a Saint Paul, Minnesota, family physician, she provided care to Hmong patients affected by hepatitis B. Deborah grew increasingly concerned about low vaccination rates among the Southeast Asian refugee population she served. She recognized that without vaccination, her patients were at higher risk of contracting measles, hepatitis B, and other vaccine-preventable diseases. In 1990, when measles became a national public health crisis that claimed the lives of three local unvaccinated Hmong children, Deborah’s response was exceptional and innovative. She gave up her family medicine practice and dedicated her life to increasing immunization rates and enhancing the delivery of safe and effective vaccination services.
 
 
 
Forging Collaboration through Shared Passion 
Deborah intuitively understood that reaching out to others who share your passion can spark powerfully contagious collaborations. She organized a local group of healthcare professionals and advocates who began providing vaccination services and immunization education at clinics in Saint Paul. Working out of donated space at the Saint Paul Health Department, Deborah’s nascent coalition published The Hepatitis B Coalition News. The first issue was mailed to approximately 40 doctors and nurses in the early 1990s. 
 
 
 
The Early Years of IAC
Deborah was just getting started. She secured startup funding to open a small office, expanded the distribution of the newsletter, and founded the Immunization Action Coalition (IAC) in 1993 with a mission dedicated to raising immunization rates across the nation. 
 
In those early years, Deborah’s children created some of IAC’s cheerful graphics. As her staff grew, Deborah extended the warmth of family to her entire team, celebrating every birthday and delighting in annual IAC dinner gatherings to which spouses, partners, and children were welcomed. Combining her gracious personal warmth with an unflagging commitment to medical excellence, Deborah built a team of national immunization experts who were highly respected, deeply loyal, and passionately motivated. 
 
Building a National Treasure of Immunization Information and Education
Over the next 28 years, IAC became recognized as a premier provider of child, teen, and adult immunization information for healthcare professionals and their patients. During that time IAC has worked closely with CDC to support, promote, and enhance the agency’s materials and services. Today, IAC’s multiple websites present 2,000-plus web pages serving 35,000-plus visitors per day and offer more than 300 free immunization patient handouts and staff educational materials. Website visitors download more than 3.5 million ready-to-print copies of IAC materials annually.
 
A Prolific Publisher
“Never a dull moment” is one of Deborah’s favorite expressions, but it does not begin to explain how she found enough moments for her many accomplishments, including overseeing multiple publications. Her commitment to maintaining high quality standards for these publications is well-known and respected throughout the immunization community.
 
In addition to supervising IAC’s extensive website resources, Deborah served as executive editor of three immensely popular IAC publications, Needle Tips, Vaccinate Adults, and Vaccinate Women. Written for pediatric healthcare professionals, more than 4.25 million copies of Needle Tips were distributed to pediatricians, family physicians, and pediatric nurse practitioners nationwide, as well as to local and state health departments. 
 
 
 
Since its launch in 1997, Deborah has served as the executive editor of IAC Express. This free weekly email news service currently has more than 52,000 subscribers. Another highly valued IAC feature publication developed by Deborah, Ask the Experts, is now an online repository of more than 1,100 frequently updated questions and answers addressing the clinical dilemmas and common questions of immunization providers on the front lines. Deborah’s commitment to providing practical information for healthcare professionals also was evident in Technically Speaking, her monthly column featured in Vaccine Update for Healthcare Professionals, the e-newsletter from the Vaccine Education Center (VEC) at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
 
Deborah’s commitment to patient education also led to development of IAC’s library of translations of Vaccine Information Statements (VIS) in almost 50 languages, allowing millions of vaccine recipients to have access to vaccine information in their preferred language. This library is the nation’s central repository for translations of these federally required vaccination documents.
 
Public Promotion of Immunization Education
Under Deborah's direction, IAC authored multiple handout materials specifically aimed at encouraging parents to immunize their children. Deborah also developed the Unprotected People Stories, an original collection of personal stories about people who have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases. These heartfelt accounts are particularly effective in reminding vaccine-hesitant families of the value of vaccines.
 
Standing Orders Guidance: From Measles Epidemics to the COVID-19 Pandemic
During the 1990s measles epidemic, Deborah developed standing orders documents for her medical practice so that RNs could provide vaccination services on their own, without a physician being present. She expanded her standing orders initiative through IAC, which maintains current standing orders for 18 vaccines. Notably, IAC’s standing orders for managing medical vaccination emergencies have been an invaluable tool in assisting COVID-19 vaccination efforts. 
 
A Lifetime of National Vaccine Policy Advocacy
Deborah has had an active role in developing and supporting national vaccine policies and strategies. She served as a consultant to the working groups of CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and on external planning committees of CDC’s National Immunization Conferences. She was founding chair of the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, co-chair of the Adult Vaccine Policy Group, and member of the Childhood Vaccine Policy Group, the 317 Coalition Steering Committee, and other national immunization groups. She was an Executive Committee member for the National Influenza Vaccine Summit, which, with IAC support, has since evolved into the National Adult and Influenza Immunization Summit. She supported longtime friend and ally Dr. Paul Offit as a member of the advisory board of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Recognizing the untapped leadership skills of passionate pro-vaccine mom Karen Ernst during a fortuitous meeting at an immunization coalition event in New Orleans, Deborah recruited her to lead Voices for Vaccines, a national parent organization providing a strong voice supporting the value of vaccines. Deborah’s commitment to establishing partnerships among immunization coalitions led to the formation of the National Network of Immunization Coalitions, providing a forum for coalition leaders across the country to collaborate and share the best methods for improving immunizations within their respective communities. 
 
 
 
Even in the midst of all these activities, Deborah never forgot the hepatitis B issues she first noted among her Hmong patients. She and other advocates conducted a successful 10-year, national effort to encourage ACIP to strengthen its hepatitis B birth dose recommendation and ensure that every newborn receives hepatitis B vaccine prior to discharge from the hospital. Today, the Hepatitis B Birth Dose Honor Roll she founded counts 535 hospitals and birthing centers among its honorees, recognizing them for consistently providing the birth dose of hepatitis B vaccine to more than 90% of the babies born each year in these facilities. Her honor roll concept has grown to encompass similar recognition for Influenza Vaccination of Healthcare Personnel and Meningitis B Vaccination in colleges and universities. 
 
National Awards and Recognition 
Deborah’s selfless commitment to public health has been acknowledged with numerous awards. Among them, CDC recognized her work with its prestigious Partners in Public Health Award for efforts “instrumental in achieving high levels of routine infant hepatitis B immunization.” She received the National Childhood Immunization Champion Award from Every Child By Two (now known as Vaccinate Your Family), the national immunization advocacy organization founded by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Arkansas’ former first lady Betty Bumpers. The American Pharmacists Association presented her with their Friend of Pharmacy Immunization Leadership Award. 
 
 
 
In February 2020, the syndicated public television show Visionaries selected the Immunization Action Coalition as the subject of one of its documentaries highlighting nonprofit organizations working to make a positive difference in the world. Hosted by Sam Waterston, the film showcases Deborah’s lifelong commitment to vaccination through her leadership of IAC’s extraordinary team of national experts. 
 
A Life-Affirming Legacy
Deborah’s life is the story of one extraordinary doctor’s compassionate vision for a healthier world. Though the names of those who invent vaccines are widely recognized, we often fail to sufficiently appreciate those extraordinary people, like Deborah, who help the world realize the full benefit of vaccination. Through her passion for public health, partnerships, and coalitions, Deborah has championed the front-line nurses, doctors, and pharmacists responsible for immunization, helping them reach more people of all ages with these lifesaving interventions. 
 
Deborah, it is our honor to publicly recognize your unparalleled career in vaccine advocacy. IAC’s employees, consultants, and the national immunization community are grateful for your unwavering support for all of us who have worked alongside you over the decades. With full, affectionate, and grateful hearts, we wish you many more rich, rewarding, and “never dull” moments in the years to come.
 
 
 
To our readers:
You are invited to share your best wishes and recognize Deborah with a note or by making a contribution in her honor. You may send messages to her at admininfo@immunize.org, noting “Retirement” in the subject line. During her retirement, Deborah plans to undertake a special project to preserve and record the history of IAC. Persons wishing to honor Deborah’s career are invited to donate to this special project or to IAC’s general fund to help ensure that the important work of the organization she founded continues long into the future. Both options are available on the Support IAC page.

 

About IAC Express
The Immunization Action Coalition welcomes redistribution of this issue of IAC Express or selected articles. When you do so, please add a note that the Immunization Action Coalition is the source of the material and provide a link to this issue.

No part of this issue of IAC Express was produced using government funds. The views expressed here are those of the Immunization Action Coalition and do not represent the official views of any government agency, including agencies of the federal government.

IAC Express Disclaimer
ISSN: 1526-1786

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About IZ Express

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Editorial Information

  • Editor-in-Chief
    Kelly L. Moore, MD, MPH
  • Managing Editor
    John D. Grabenstein, RPh, PhD
  • Associate Editor
    Sharon G. Humiston, MD, MPH
  • Writer/Publication Coordinator
    Taryn Chapman, MS
    Courtnay Londo, MA
  • Style and Copy Editor
    Marian Deegan, JD
  • Web Edition Managers
    Arkady Shakhnovich
    Jermaine Royes
  • Contributing Writer
    Laurel H. Wood, MPA
  • Technical Reviewer
    Kayla Ohlde

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