NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

VRC’s Graham Retires After More Than 20 Years

A screen shot of a smiling Graham talking with Dr. Anthony Fauci whose screen background reads, "Congratulations Dr. Graham: May Your Retirement Be Full of Happiness."
NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci (r) speaks on a virtual tribute to VRC deputy director Dr. Barney Graham.

Dr. Barney Graham retired after more than 20 years as an investigator at the NIAID Vaccine Research Center (VRC), where he served as VRC deputy director and chief of the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory. His career has spanned numerous pathogens and disciplines. He is an immunologist, virologist, vaccinologist and clinical trials physician whose work focused on respiratory viral pathogens, pandemic preparedness and emerging viral diseases. 

Graham led VRC development efforts for RSV, influenza and Covid-19 vaccines, among many other noteworthy achievements. His work on coronaviruses before and during the Covid-19 pandemic was critical to development of the highly effective vaccines that are in use in the U.S. and worldwide. Countless lives have been saved as a result of his efforts. 

In addition, Graham has been a consummate mentor and teacher to many researchers. He earned his M.D. from the University of Kansas School of Medicine in 1979. He completed both his residency and chief residencies in internal medicine and a clinical fellowship in infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, where he also earned a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology in 1991, and subsequently became a professor of medicine. 

A grid of ten boxes each filled with a VIP wishing Dr. Graham a happy retirement
Just a few of the more than 200 well wishers at Graham’s virtual retirement gathering

In 2000, Graham was recruited as one of the founding VRC investigators and he has been involved in vaccine design and clinical evaluation of candidate vaccines for more than 30 years. 

Graham has been an exemplary investigator and leader not only at the VRC, but also in the global biomedical community, where he has donated much of his time and expertise as an advisor to the World Health Organization and many other organizations. His insightful, inventive and patient approach to research will be greatly missed in the VRC, NIAID and NIH communities. 

The VRC honored Graham during a virtual celebration on Sept. 9 to mark his retirement after 20 years as an investigator there. The event was emceed by Dr. Karin Bok, VRC’s director of pandemic preparedness and emergency response, and included several speakers from across NIH and NIAID, such as NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci and VRC director Dr. John Mascola. 

Many of Graham’s past colleagues and mentees also spoke, including former fellows Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, now an assistant professor at Harvard University, and Dr. Jason McLellan, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as Graham’s mentor from Vanderbilt University, Dr. Kathryn Edwards, and former VRC director Dr. Gary Nabel. 

Many familiar faces could be seen in the audience of over 200. Several attendees used celebratory virtual backgrounds and contributed their thoughts and well wishes in the Zoom chat. 

At the conclusion of the event, a word cloud of terms that guests used to describe Graham was presented. After such a brilliant and successful career, it is noteworthy that the most frequently used word by his colleagues was “kind.” Those who know Graham will agree that the word resonates throughout his entire being. 

The VRC remains committed to basic and translational research and to the research and discovery of novel vaccines and monoclonal antibodies and is organizing VRC laboratories and sections to accommodate for Graham’s retirement. 

Although he could never be replaced, Graham’s legacy of excellence in vaccine research remains, and the VRC continues to honor this by fulfilling its mission of improving human health through the rigorous pursuit of effective vaccines.


The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

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