IDCRC Leader Profile: Walter Orenstein, MD


Walt Orenstein, MD, is the IDCRC Leadership Group Collaborations and Publications Committee chair. He is a professor of Medicine, Pediatrics, Global Health, and Epidemiology at Emory University, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center, and director of Emory’s Program for Vaccine Policy and Development. Dr. Orenstein is retiring from Emory, effective September 1, 2023, and will become emeritus status.

"Walt is a vaccinology legend, he has made significant contributions to the field of immunization and vaccine-preventable diseases," says Nadine Rouphael, MD, Emory University VTEU PI.

"Thank you for your tremendous contributions to launching and supporting the IDCRC and to the field of vaccines and vaccine policy. During these challenging times, your support has been invaluable to advancing the goals of the IDCRC," says David Stephens, MD, IDCRC contact PI.

We thank him for his dedication and commitment to the IDCRC. The IDCRC team wishes him all the best in his future endeavors.

Dr. Orenstein describes his background in vaccine research.

Prior to coming to Emory, I spent 26 years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Immunization Program. From 1988-2004, I was the director of the U.S. Immunization Program. Between 2008-2011, I was the deputy director for Immunization Programs at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with a special focus on global polio eradication. 

During my time at Emory University (2004-2008 and 2011-present), I focused on vaccine policy, assessing vaccine effectiveness in observational studies, overcoming vaccine hesitancy and building vaccine confidence, and supporting domestic and global immunization programs. I was the chairman of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC) from 2012-2016 and am the current chairman of the Immunization and Vaccines-related Implementation Research Advisory Committee (IVIR-AC) for the World Health Organization (WHO). I’ve been a co-editor for Plotkin’s Vaccines, the standard textbook in the field of vaccinology, for the last six editions.

Please describe the importance of the VTEUs.

I have not been an actual investigator with the Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units (VTEUs) but over the years have been highly influenced by the research conducted by the network and translating that into policy. The VTEUs have been critical in obtaining the data needed to ensure vaccines are safe and effective in a variety of populations, often establishing the basis for vaccine licensure and recommendations for use. My interactions began while I was at the CDC and have continued afterward. The VTEUs are both a national and global treasure in support of public health efforts to mitigate the burden of infectious diseases.

What is a strength or example of the importance of the IDCRC?

The IDCRC has played a critical role in coordinating research efforts to reduce the burden of infectious diseases, including supporting studies of various vaccines in multiple populations to assess their safety and efficacy. My focus at the IDCRC has been on chairing the Communications, Publications, and Collaborations Key Function Committee (KFC). During my time, we developed a comprehensive Manual of Procedures (MOP) covering the process for developing publications, critical clearance requirements, reviews of publications prior to submission, and more. We have also kept track of publications in preparation trying to anticipate clearance in the future.

What are your plans for the future?

I have formed a consulting firm, OrensteinVax LLC, and plan to continue to give advice to various groups on issues related to policy and implementation. My favorite quote is, “Vaccines don’t save lives. Vaccinations save lives.” I plan to continue my work to support efforts to enhance vaccine uptake among persons for whom vaccines are recommended.