Alumni Profile: Dominic Thorrington

Dmoninc Thorrington

What is your current role?

I am a Scientific Project Manager for the French healthcare regulator, the Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS). Specifically, I write vaccination recommendations for the French Technical Commission for Vaccinations (Commission technique des vaccinations, CTV), which are voted on by their panel of expert members.

What and when did you study at LSHTM?

I studied for a PhD in Infectious Disease Epidemiology and was part of the Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health from 2012 to 2016.

Why did you decide to study at LSHTM?

I was attracted to study for my PhD at our School through a combination of the PhD programme that was on offer with the supervisor that was advertising it, plus the prestige and reputation that comes with the LSHTM.

My background was mathematics, and I'd started to specialise in mathematical modelling of infectious disease epidemics before working in the UK NHS. In 2011-12 I was looking for a way back into academia, and LSHTM advertised a PhD position supervised by a mathematician, with a subject matter right up my street. Everything seemed to align, so I felt compelled to put my application in.

How has your degree at LSHTM complemented your career?

My career goals have always centred around using my skills in mathematics for public service. During my time at the School, I submitted some modelling analyses to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the advisory committee that advises the UK Department of Health on immunisation and making vaccination recommendations. At that time, I knew I wanted to forge a career in mathematical modelling in infectious disease epidemiology, and it appeared to me that guiding vaccination policy was an ideal setting for that.

After leaving the School I continued on that track by doing more modelling for the JCVI and other European vaccination policy committees. Now I work directly for the French vaccination committee, the CTV, through the HAS.

In what way were the relationships you formed at LSHTM useful?

I am still in touch with some friends from the School. It's interesting how our career paths have diverged since we finished our respective studies, but we're all very happy doing something we're fully committed to. I find it incredibly helpful to pick their brains on my work because they can give me fresh perspectives on what I'm doing.

What are your achievements?

In the past I've presented work to the JCVI that has led to vaccination recommendations for new vaccines against things like seasonal influenza. After the work was presented we also published everything so that the full decision-making process was transparent. I'm very proud of those projects where more effective vaccines were made available to the people who needed them the most. Anyone interested can read exactly how those decisions were made.

In my current role, I'm writing vaccination recommendations on various diseases, and each one I've done so far has had an important public health impact. On days when my colleagues and I get caught up trying to manage our projects, it's always worth stepping back to see how our previous work has improved public health.

What do you hope to further achieve in your field in the future?

Vaccination policy never stands still. I hope to still influence it in France and abroad for many years to come. There are always new challenges around the corner: new pathogens, new vaccines, new methods for evaluating the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of those vaccines, and adequately communicating the work we do to the broader public so that our vaccination recommendations can be understood and trusted.

Have you connected with alumni since leaving LSHTM? If so, how did you get involved?

I have had a profile on LSHTM Connect for a few months, and I've already had several people reach out to me for career advice. I'm always happy to talk to people if they think I can offer them advice on how to use their skills acquired at our School.

What advice do you have for current students?

Start networking as soon as you can – your fellow students will go on to be very influential in health policy in many different countries, and some of your teachers will have done that in the past.

And something specific for the doctoral students – you should look forward to your Viva Voce! Yes, it's an exam, but you'll have the chance to talk about your research with two experts in the field, and that chat could easily go on for hours. You'll never get the opportunity to talk about your work for so long again, so savour it. It might be the most intellectually stimulating few hours of your life. I certainly enjoyed mine.

Do you have any stand out memories from LSHTM?

I always enjoyed the annual Pump Handle lectures the John Snow Society arranged. Tom Frieden, Director of the CDC from 2009 to 2017 was there in 2012. Hosting a speaker held in such high regard was an excellent display of the school's international reputation.

How did COVID-19 affected your work?

The HAS and the CTV reacted extremely quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our methods of working adapted dramatically to ensure that we could publish vaccination recommendations and opinions in as fast a time as possible without compromising on the scientific integrity expected of healthcare regulators.

The HAS worked closely with other healthcare authorities to ensure that new COVID-19 vaccines could be assessed as thoroughly and quickly as possible by streamlining the evaluation processes. At times, we were publishing our recommendations the day after the European Medicines Agency approved the use of a new COVID-19 vaccine. That was because we'd already been working on our evaluation for weeks. For my colleagues and I, it meant many very late nights and many weekends too, but our work helped facilitate life-saving vaccines getting approved as quickly as possible.