Head of Vaccine Development at Pfizer Delivers Commencement Address

Kathrin Jansen in Commencement regalia delivering the Commencement Speech.

Kathrin U. Jansen, Ph.D., Senior Vice President and Head of Vaccine Research and Development, Pfizer Inc., delivered the Commencement Address to Dominican College graduates on Sunday, June 27, 2021.

Kathrin U. Jansen, Ph.D., Senior Vice President and Head of Vaccine Research and Development, Pfizer Inc., wished the Dominican College Class of 2021 “a lifetime of joyful learning and meaningful accomplishments” at the 67th Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, June 27, 2021,  at the Palisades Credit Union Park in Pomona, NY.

During her Commencement Address, which was delivered virtually,  Jansen praised the graduates for persevering during an unprecedented time.  “You deserve recognition not only for having earned your degrees, but for having done so while contending with the extraordinary challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Jansen then spoke about her experience with COVID-19 as a New York City resident who saw refrigerated trucks that served as temporary morgues lining a city block near her apartment.  “As chilling as the experience was for me, it was also a once in a lifetime opportunity to help save people’s lives,” she said. “As I walked back to my apartment the night I saw those refrigerated trucks, I decided that Pfizer would have to develop a vaccine to try to help end the pandemic.  What’s more – we’d have to do so faster than it had ever been done before.”

Under  Jansen’s leadership, Pfizer developed the first COVID-19 vaccine to receive emergency use authorization for use in individuals 16 years of age and older from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It was developed in record-breaking time and is currently the only vaccine also approved for emergency use in adolescents 12 to 15 years of age.  Jansen explained that the vaccine was developed quickly without taking shortcuts by using a radical approach of carrying out required steps simultaneously,  instead of sequentially.

The development of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is just the latest success in Jansen’s impressive 32-year career. She has also developed vaccines to fight the HPV virus and pneumonia. At the Commencement, the honorary degree of Doctor of Science was conferred upon Jansen in recognition of her remarkable contributions to the development of life-saving vaccines, her unwavering determination to help end a pandemic that has claimed more than 600,000 U.S. lives, and her steadfast devotion to science and data.

Jansen ended her address by sharing with the graduates what she has learned since graduating. Her advice was: don’t waste time worrying; always trust your gut; value your alliances; express your gratitude to your valued partners; embrace opportunities and learn from detours and failures; and cultivate resilience. “It is abundantly clear to me that the Dominican Class of 2021 already has the quality of resilience in abundance,” she said.  “You survived a most difficult year and you are here with your friends and family to celebrate it – to celebrate you.”

In addition to the undergraduate ceremony, graduate hooding and commencement ceremonies for Dominican College students earning advanced degrees took place on the Orangeburg, NY, campus throughout June.  A total of 525 students received degrees – 74 doctoral degrees, 109 master’s degrees, 340 bachelor’s degrees, and two associate degrees.