School of Medicine Alumni Award winner stresses importance of immunization

Global Health panel
Karen Remley, M.D. ’80, center, discussed vaccination and other topics at a panel with fellow UMKC Alumni Award winners Alex Garza, M.D., left, and Bernard Beall, Ph.D.

A School of Medicine alumna who leads an organization of 64,000 pediatricians reiterated the safety and effectiveness of immunization at a panel discussion at UMKC.

Karen Remley, M.D. ’80, MBA, M.P.H., received the School of Medicine’s Alumni Achievement Award at a luncheon on April 21. Later that day, she participated in a panel discussion on global health. Raymond Cattaneo, M.D. ’03, M.P.H., president of the UMKC Alumni Association and assistant dean for years 1 and 2 medicine, moderated the discussion.

Remley became chief executive officer of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2015. She said one of the organization’s objectives is to provide accurate and timely information to the public.

Last September, when Remley had been on the job only a few days, she reacted quickly when false statements about immunizations were made during a Republican presidential debate. Within hours, she issued a statement that vaccines are “one of the safest, most effective and most important medical innovations of our time.”

Remley also spoke out after the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City scheduled the showing of anti-vaccine film. The film was eventually dropped from the lineup.

“One of the most important roles that the academy has is to be the fair broker of honest information, because we are a trusted voice,” she said at the panel, which took place at the Student Union on the Volker campus.

Remley described her career as a “series of fellowships.” She has been a pediatrician, a pediatric emergency physician, an academician, a health plan medical director and a hospital’s chief medical officer. From 2008 to 2012, she was the commissioner of health for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Working as a state health commissioner required a wide range of expertise. Remley said she used to joke that regulating power plants and septic systems was not taught in medical school. But, she added, the six-year B.A./M.D. program had prepared her to meet a challenge.

“They did teach me at UMKC how to learn and how to keep moving forward and how to trust in your team,” she said.

Remley appeared on the panel with Alex Garza, M.D., M.P.H., and Bernard Beall, Ph.D., who also received awards from the UMKC Alumni Association Governing Board. Each year, the board and the campus recognize outstanding alumni at a luncheon event that also serves to raise funds for student scholarships.

Garza received the UMKC Alumnus of the Year Award. Beall was the School of Biological Sciences’ Alumni Achievement Award winner.

Garza was chief medical officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013. Now on the faculty of the College for Public Health and Social Justice at Saint Louis University, he trained in emergency medicine at UMKC after receiving his medical degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

During the panel discussion, Garza acknowledged Matthew Gratton, M.D., professor and chair of emergency medicine at the UMKC School of Medicine. Gratton was medical director of the Metropolitan Ambulances Services Trust, where Garza worked as a paramedic before starting medical school. Their paths crossed again when Garza began training in the emergency department at Truman Medical Centers. Both served in the Iraq War.

Garza echoed Remley’s comments about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. “The science is clear,” he said. “There is no doubt vaccines work and that they do not cause harm.”

Beall leads the Streptococcus Laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control, where he and his team study and characterize the bacterial strains causing strep throat, skin and blood infections and pneumonia. Conducting population-based surveillance of invasive pathogens, Beall said, “You get the opportunity to be a participant in the larger possible kind of experiment.”