Dr. M. Elizabeth ‘Betz’ Halloran elected to National Academy of Medicine

Statistician honored for helping the world anticipate, manage and prevent infectious disease outbreaks

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Dr. M. Elizabeth ‘Betz’ Halloran has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine, a high honor in the fields of health and medicine.

Halloran is one of the world’s top experts in statistical methods for evaluating vaccines and vaccination strategies to stop outbreaks of deadly infectious diseases.

The Academy announced its 100 new members today in conjunction with its annual meeting. 

Photo portrait of Betz Halloran
Dr. Betz Halloran is a faculty member in Fred Hutch's Vaccine and Infectious Disease and Public Health Sciences divisions. She is an expert in statistical methods for evaluating vaccines and vaccination strategies to stop Ebola, flu, dengue fever and other globally important infectious diseases. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

“It’s a real honor to be recognized by your peers,” said Halloran, who joins only 10 other Fred Hutch scientists to have been elected members of the Academy. “It’s just thrilling to have that kind of recognition.”

The National Academy of Medicine is an independent organization of leading professionals from diverse fields whose work is relevant to health and medicine. Each year, current members of the Academy elect new members who have made major professional contributions to human health and demonstrate a commitment to service.

Understanding disease outbreaks and evaluating vaccines

Halloran was honored for her seminal contributions to the design and analysis of human trials of new vaccines and to the study of how infectious diseases spread through populations. Since her graduate research in malaria, Halloran has worked on outbreaks of about a dozen different diseases. Her current work includes projects in influenza, Ebola and dengue fever, a globally important mosquito-borne illness.

“Betz Halloran's development of innovative epidemiological and statistical models for the spread of infectious diseases have had substantial impact in the anticipation and management of global infectious disease outbreaks,” said fellow Fred Hutch statistician and National Academy of Medicine member Dr. Ross Prentice, who nominated her for the honor. “She has also been a major contributor to methodology for the design and analysis of vaccine studies, including key contributions to the evaluation of direct and indirect effects of vaccines.

“Dr. Halloran also fulfills a leading role in related multicenter research collaborations and training activities. Many of these contributions and developments have occurred during the past 15 years, while Betz has been here in Seattle,” he said.

The mathematical and statistical methods that Halloran has developed have been widely adopted and built upon. They account for the many complex variables that affect the impact of a vaccine in a population, such as interpersonal contact and herd immunity.

“It’s much more complicated to work in the realm of infectious diseases, where you have all these different interactions and transmission than to work in standard clinical trials,” Halloran explained. “You usually assume that if I get a treatment, it doesn’t affect the outcome of somebody else. But in the infectious disease world, if I get vaccinated, it could very well affect your outcome when you get infected.”

Halloran’s work has also informed the design of vaccine trials to account for real-world challenges, such as limited vaccine supply and fast-moving disease outbreaks.

Throughout her career, Halloran has applied her findings to counsel national governments and the World Health Organization on outbreak planning and disease-prevention strategies. She heads the Fred Hutch–based Center for Inference & Dynamics of Infectious Diseases, one of only three cooperative centers of excellence in infectious disease modeling in the U.S., which help the U.S. government prepare for infectious disease outbreaks.

“Betz Halloran's development of innovative epidemiological and statistical models for the spread of infectious diseases have had substantial impact in the anticipation and management of global infectious disease outbreaks.”

— Dr. Ross Prentice, Fred Hutch faculty member and member of the National Academy of Medicine

She collaborates widely with researchers all over the world.

“That’s part of my vision,” Halloran said. “No one person in the world works on all aspects of this. … I’m part of the team.”

Among her proudest achievements, Halloran said, is her annual Summer Institute in Statistics and Modeling in Infectious Diseases, held at the University of Washington, where she is a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology. The program, which she founded and directs, teaches modern statistical and mathematical modeling methods to infectious disease researchers and introduces statisticians and modelers to relevant issues in the infectious disease field.

“I am proud of that, because it’s internationally recognized,” Halloran said. “This is a very specialized area of study and people send their people from all over the world to get trained there.”

Halloran's public service throughout her career will continue in her new role as an Academy member. Members of the National Academy of Medicine and its sister organizations commit to volunteer in service of the activities of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. These private, nonprofit organizations provide objective analysis and advice to national and international communities on matters relevant to the sciences.

“These newly elected members represent the most exceptional scholars and leaders whose remarkable work has advanced science, medicine, and health in the U.S. and around the globe,” said National Academy of Medicine President Victor J. Dzau in the Academy’s announcement of its 2019 inductees. “Their expertise will be vital to addressing today’s most pressing health and scientific challenges and informing the future of health and medicine for the benefit of us all.”

The most recent of many honors

Election to the National Academy of Medicine is the latest of Halloran’s many professional honors and awards. These include a Nathan Mantel Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Statistical Association (2019), the Aspen Institute Italia Prize for research and collaboration between Italy and the United States (2016), and being named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2009), of the Royal Statistical Society (1997), and of the American Statistical Association (1996).

The other 10 Fred Hutch scientists elected to the National Academy of Medicine include seven current and former members of the Hutch’s senior leadership, a Nobel Prize winner and internationally renowned scientists in fields ranging from HIV/AIDS to cancer prevention. Prior to Halloran, the last Fred Hutch scientist to be elected to the National Academy of Medicine was President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland, in 2015. An additional 11 Fred Hutch scientists have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Susan Keown was a staff editor and writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center from 2014-2022 who has written about health and research topics for a variety of research institutions. Find her on Twitter @sejkeown.

Read more about Fred Hutch achievements and accolades.

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