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NIH head: Journalists have important role in explaining the science behind vaccine development

Francis S. Collins

Francis S. Collins

As coronavirus infections rise nationwide, health care journalists have an important role in explaining the science behind the development, safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, said Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., the director of the National Institutes of Health.

As the Nov. 18 keynote speaker at AHCJ’s Journalism Summit on Infectious Disease, Collins gave a stark warning for journalists and all Americans about the need to recognize the value of the vaccines as they are rolled out in the coming months. Continue reading

How to leverage local angles on fall prevention


Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director, National Institutes of Health, speaks at Health Journalism 2011.

One of the NIH initiatives highlighted last week by director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., during his keynote at the Gerontological Society meeting was a 5-year, $30 million cooperative effort with the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute  (PCORI) to conduct a clinical trial testing individually-tailored interventions to prevent fall-related injuries.

Why is this important? Because, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, one in three adults over age 65 experiences at least one fall annually; 20 percent to 30 percent of which cause moderate to severe injuries — or even death. Falls lead to increased hospitalizations, higher medical costs, loss of independence, diminished quality of life, and affects other chronic conditions. According to the CDC, older adults are hospitalized five times more often for fall-related injuries than for other causes. Direct medical costs of fall injuries for people 65 and older was $30 billion in 2012 and by 2020, total direct and indirect costs are projected to more than double.

As of July 2014, nine states have enacted or are considering legislation on fall-prevention initiatives. Many others are partnering with community organizations to educate providers and seniors about the risks. As Kate Hafner wrote in this New York Times piece, the problem is only growing worse.

More peace of mind may come at a price for consumers. Fall-related wearable technology is big business. Consumer Reports recently profiled six different medical alert systems. At the recent National Association of Home Care and Hospice annual conference, I saw at least another half-dozen new products on exhibit — the latest of which incorporate GPS tracking, providing an ability to find the wearer regardless of location. Others monitor a wearer’s balance, alerting clinicians to assess potential health issues before a fall occurs.

There are plenty of ideas and opportunities to focus on falls in the elderly in your community – home risk assessment and safety programs, hospital admissions, costs of rehab, and loss of independence and ability to age in place are just a few ideas. Or take a look at the business side of falls — from health costs to entrepreneurs.

See this tip sheet for more information on how falling affects older adults.

Gero is “hot science:” NIH Director Collins

The National Institutes of Health remains strongly committed to the future of aging research, said NIH Director Francis S. Collins during Thursday’s kickoff of the Gerontological Society of America’s Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.

During his keynote speech at the GSA meeting, Collins highlighted several areas of research that are getting recent notice by mainstream media, including the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), bio markers to map cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease and a 5-year, $30 million fall prevention project.

Collins also described several research successes at NIH and its National Institute on Aging since the NIA’s founding in 1974.  “Life expectancy has increased. Deaths from cardiovascular disease are down 70 percent in the last 60 years,” he said. “Cancer deaths are also down, although not enough, but have dropped about one percent a year for the last 15 years.” Every one percent decline saves the U.S. About $500 billion in costs, he noted.

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Collins unanimously confirmed as head of NIH

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., has been unanimously confirmed as director of the National Institutes of Health, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced today.

“Dr. Collins is one of our generation’s great scientific leaders. A physician and geneticist, Dr. Collins served as Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, where he led the Human Genome Project to completion,” said Secretary Sebelius. “Dr. Collins will be an outstanding leader. Today is an exciting day for NIH and for science in this country.”

Francis S. Collins

Francis S. Collins

Collins, a geneticist, had received some attention when he was nominated because of his religious beliefs. The evangelical Christian wrote a book, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.”

Jacob Molyneux, senior editor at the American Journal of Nursing, examined some of what was written about Francis at the time and looked at the then-nominee’s statements and records, including those about the use of embryonic stem cells for research. He concluded that “for Collins, science and the potential for alleviation of human suffering trump moral or religious absolutism and blind adherence to the sanctity of life issue.”

The Los Angeles Times ran a point-counterpoint piece about the topic, Newsweek‘s religion editor weighed in, and The New York Times ran an op-ed by an author who is “uncomfortable” with Francis’ nomination. Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle did a Q&A with Josh Rosenau from the National Center for Science Education, which defends the teaching of evolution in public schools.