Informative remarks, undeniable expertise, and a reassuring tone… The public immediately saw her as a reliable source to explain issues surrounding the pandemic. And yet, nothing predestined Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh – who was drawn in turn to pediatrics and microbiology – to play this sort of media role. But her desire to ensure people understand the issues of the day by appealing to their intelligence, won out over her natural shyness. This exceptional scientist has countless articles published in specialized journals, honours, research grants, and awards that have peppered her career for the past 25 years. Her career as a clinician and researcher has focused on immunisation as well as the prevention of hospital-acquired infections and those that can be prevented through vaccination and antibiotic resistance, particularly among vulnerable populations, whether premature babies, immunosuppressed individuals, or patients with cystic fibrosis.
A committed professor, she sits on many scientific committees and collaborates and shares her experience with institutes across the country. For example, her recent contribution to the National Advisory Committee on Immunisation made it possible to make recommendations about segments of the population to vaccinate first against COVID-19. And because she thrives just as intensely ‒ without losing any of her Olympian calm ‒ on the tangible benefits of her research, she has recently been conducting a study, subsidized by Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, on estimates of the risk of COVID-19 reinfection among health care workers. Her research will help “determine whether or not a SARS-CoV-2 infection offers permanent protection.” Driven by the need to dedicate herself to the greater good, she is a catalyst for a new generation of women. How? By actively promoting their access to positions of power in the scientific community.
While clearly a threat, has the pandemic had any positive effects?
Its appearance shone a spotlight on a single virus that attacks all systems in the human body. As a result, research conducted to better understand SARS-CoV-2 should make it possible to learn more about other conditions, such as Lyme disease, and to treat even more people.
What can you hope for in your field of research, as we focus increasingly on prevention?
I think it will generate more support for research into infection prevention, including major financial investments, as well as a better understanding of the true prevention role, which often has limited appeal for funders. But decision makers now realize that without infection prevention, we can back ourselves into a corner. And understanding the need for prevention ‒ whether we subscribe to or follow the health guidelines ‒ will allow us, or at least I hope, to protect against a next pandemic.
What do you think is generated by women gaining access to positions of power in the scientific community?
I think they can offer a lot in terms of decision making. Women think differently. Generally, they rely on collaboration and the importance of making others shine, without regard for their ego. This makes society function better.