November 14, 2019

Edwards receives American Pediatric Society’s top award

Vanderbilt’s Kathryn Edwards, MD, is the recipient of the 2020 John Howland Award, the highest honor given by the American Pediatric Society (APS).


by Bill Snyder

Kathryn Edwards, MD, who holds the Sarah H. Sell and Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Chair in Pediatrics and is a professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, is the recipient of the 2020 John Howland Award, the highest honor given by the American Pediatric Society (APS).

Kathryn Edwards, MD, was honored for her contributions to pediatrics and vaccine research.
Kathryn Edwards, MD, was honored for her contributions to pediatrics and vaccine research. (photo by Susan Urmy)

A member of the National Academy of Medicine, Edwards’ work focuses on the evaluation of vaccines for the prevention of infectious diseases in adults and children. She has led many of the pivotal clinical trials of vaccines licensed in the past several decades and has played a major role in their implementation.

The award, which was created in honor of clinician-scientist John Howland, MD, will be presented to Edwards on May 3 during the Pediatric Academic Societies 2020 Meeting in Philadelphia.

“We are delighted to honor Dr. Edwards with the 2020 APS John Howland Award for her significant contributions to pediatrics and vaccinology,” APS president Robin Steinhorn, MD, said in a prepared statement. “Her work in evaluating the safety and effectiveness of vaccines has made a significant impact on the prevention and management of infectious diseases in children.”

“I am so pleased to be receiving this award,” said Edwards, who joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1980. “Previous award winners have been giants in pediatrics. It is such an honor to be named with this group.”

Edwards is the third Vanderbilt faculty member to receive the John Howland Award, which has been given annually since 1952. The late Amos Christie, MD, was honored in 1979, and Mildred Stahlman, MD, received the award in 1996.

Edwards earned her medical degree from the University of Iowa. She completed her residency in pediatrics and a fellowship in infectious diseases at Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago.

Early in her career, Edwards aided the development of vaccines to prevent Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), at the time a leading cause of sepsis and meningitis in young children. Today, protein conjugate Hib and pneumococcal vaccines have virtually eliminated Hib and pneumococcal disease where these vaccines are used routinely.

Her group’s demonstration of the safety and effectiveness of both live and inactivated influenza vaccines in adults and children helped lead to recommendations that all children under 2 years of age should be immunized against flu each year.

In 2011 Edwards was awarded a contract by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct comprehensive pneumonia surveillance studies in more than 2,000 adults and children with community-acquired pneumonia. These studies established the burden and etiology of pneumonia in children and adults.

Edwards and her colleagues also have demonstrated the safety and effectiveness of acellular pertussis vaccines and published pivotal papers on rotavirus, malaria and other important vaccines.

Edwards has extensive experience in leading National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded multicenter initiatives; in designing, conducting and analyzing pivotal Phase I, II and III clinical studies on vaccines and therapeutics; in facilitating networking with basic and clinical investigators with a wide range of interests and expertise; and in mentoring many of the investigators who currently lead vaccine research programs both locally and globally.

For the past decade, she has led a CDC-funded Center for Immunization Safety Assessment site at Vanderbilt, where she and her colleagues assess adverse events associated with vaccines in subjects of all ages.

For many years Edwards was the principal investigator for a Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit (VTEU) contract funded by the NIH and has received continuous support from the NIH and CDC for decades.

She has published more than 650 research publications, many with her trainees and mentees. Previous honors include the 2018 Maxwell Finland Award for Scientific Achievement from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

Mentoring young investigators in research also has been a passion, and Edwards has received mentorship awards from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the Society for Pediatric Research, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.