Annette K Regan is Assistant Professor and Co-Director of the Community Public Health Practice Concentration in Orange County, CA
When did you realize you had a passion for epidemiology?
I didn’t know what epidemiology was until I was in my fourth year of psychology in undergrad. I was about to graduate, and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next. I was volunteering in a sleep lab, and one of my coworkers was talking about epidemiology. I started looking into it, and it sounded perfect for me. It was math plus health plus all these things I liked all in one field. On my first day in epidemiology class during my MPH at Emory I thought, “This is where I belong.” Epi is one of the best fields. We can tackle all of these different health problems and use data and data science to better understand important health problems and identify effective solutions.
How did you end up at USF?
My family was transitioning back to the US from Australia, and we were looking for a place where our family could be happy and grow. My husband and I settled on southern CA – he works for the State Lands Commission (oil and gas guy) and fortunately USF was hiring for a MPH faculty in Orange County to extend their MPH program. Starting this MPH program in OC sounded really exciting. And our family is definitely settled here – we welcomed our son right before I started at USF!
Can you describe some of your recent work?
Right now I’m really busy with COVID-19 vaccine evaluation. I recently completed a series of papers on COVID-19 infection during pregnancy and how it affects the health of the mother and the infant. I’ve just launched a large study looking at COVID-19 vaccine safety and effectiveness in mothers and babies. Another big study I’m working on in collaboration with Boston University is a preconception cohort study to examine vaccine exposure around the time of conception and whether it influences the risk of miscarriage. We recently published a paper showing that vaccination is not associated with fertility but that COVID-19 infection in the male partner could reduce one’s chances of getting pregnant. It might be my favorite paper I’ve worked on, because it’s the only research I’ve ever done that was mentioned on SNL! Anthony Fauci also talked about it to try to dispel these myths about the COVID-19 vaccine and fertility.
I think it’s also important to acknowledge other impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had beyond infection. In addition to examining the direct health impacts of COVID-19, I’m also currently leading a large cohort study on the mental and societal impacts of COVID-19 on pregnant individuals, their partners, and their babies. It’s been very meaningful to learn from parents about their experiences birthing and parenting during the pandemic.
What has it been like doing so much research on COVID and vaccines during this pandemic?
Interestingly, I didn’t originally want to do COVID-19 research because I knew everyone was going to be doing it. I supported some student work looking at the impact of COVID-19 on childhood vaccination, but felt like I didn’t want to take on COVID-19 research myself. It’s a tough field. Almost any project you start to draft up has already been published five times by the time you get started. But, I’ve been doing influenza research for so long, all of my influenza colleagues were entirely consumed by COVID-19 work, and I just knew I was going to have to start doing this work eventually. Just as I was coming back from maternity leave, the recommendations started to come out for COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy, so this was my sign that I could not continue to do the type of research that I do around respiratory diseases and vaccines and without including COVID-19.
How do you bring the themes of your research to your courses at USF?
This past Fall, I offered a vaccine epidemiology course for the first time. It was a really fun course to teach and I think the students got a lot out of it. There has never been a better time to teach about vaccines than during a pandemic!
I also get a lot of students who are interested in doing research, so I have a few Research Assistants and volunteers who are helping with my cohort study. I bring in a lot of my own research as examples in my classes especially when teaching epidemiology methods.
What are you planning on doing next?
Taking a nap. But seriously, what I really want to do is continue to grow this COVID-19 research area with pregnant individuals. They are a really high risk group, but they have the lowest vaccination rates. I want to use the results of my work to co-design interventions with communities to improve maternal immunization rates. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to increase these vaccination rates. I also want to build more of a team and further mentor junior scientists to do this work. I really want to develop the next generation of scientists in this area.