Barbara Law

In her seaside home in Ecuador, a Canadian doctor helps set the standards for collecting data about side effects from COVID-19 vaccines to improve their safety. A former pediatric infectious disease specialist, Dr. Barbara Law shifted into the field of vaccines in the early 2000s and served as Canada’s Chief of Vaccine Safety for more than 10 years before retiring to Ecuador. “As an infectious disease physician, I got tired of treating infections,” said Law. “What I wanted to do is not see disease anymore, I wanted to see disease prevented.” From 2018 to 2021, Law chaired the science board of The Task Force’s Brighton Collaboration, a network of scientific experts who facilitate the development, evaluation, and dissemination of scientific information on the safety of vaccines.


In her role with the Brighton Collaboration’s Safety Platform for Emergency vACcines (SPEAC) project funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Law is in charge of understanding emerging evidence about how coronavirus causes COVID-19 in various human organ systems. ​​This evidence guides SPEAC and public health officials on potential adverse events that may be caused by the COVID-19 vaccine and defines standard case definitions to find and track these rare events and inform vaccine guidance. “As bad as this pandemic is, it is interesting to watch things evolve as an infectious disease expert on the front lines of vaccine development internationally,” said Law.   Law spent much of the first year of the pandemic reviewing the rapidly exploding medical literature about the various forms of the new COVID-19 disease in order to identify what are called “Adverse Events of Special Interest (AESI)” for an eventual vaccine. AESIs are identified through detailed surveillance to evaluate a vaccine’s unforeseen reactions in patients, from minor side effects to more severe medical conditions in specific cases.
In her analysis, Law predicted around 80% of the AESIs for the COVID-19 vaccine even before the European Medicines Agency detected them as part of the standard review process for approving use of the vaccines. “Barb has had an amazing success rate,” said Dr. Bob Chen, Scientific Director for the Brighton Collaboration. n the early stages of the pandemic, SPEAC also created vaccine safety templates which provided each COVID-19 vaccine developer a standardized way of describing how their vaccine candidates were developed. Now the team plans to update these templates with new safety data as each vaccine is used in larger populations, creating additional resources for surveillance of human reactions to COVID-19 vaccines to ensure safety. SPEAC was well-positioned for this role due to its experience managing Data and Safety Monitoring Boards (DSMB) and developing adverse event case definitions for existing vaccines.
Prior to COVID-19, the project focused on vaccine safety for other diseases like Lassa fever, Nipah virus, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).   One of the greatest challenges in Law’s work is not about the science of vaccines, but the public perception of them. Law says vaccine hesitancy has greatly increased due to COVID-19 misinformation and fears.   “If people aren’t confident in vaccine safety, you can have the most effective vaccine in the world and they still won’t accept it,” said Law.  Though she technically retired in 2015, Law knew her passion for global health would not waiver. She continues to work hard to ensure everyone can speak the same language when it comes to vaccine safety.

Photo 1 courtesy of Barbara Law, photos 2 and 3 courtesy of Shutterstock, and photo 4 courtesy of the Brighton Collaboration.

Photo 1 courtesy of Barbara Law, photos 2 and 3 courtesy of Shutterstock, and photo 4 courtesy of the Brighton Collaboration.

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