Women For Madison

Battling the pandemic

Clair Blacketer (’10) leads an international charge to bring reliable data to COVID-19 researchers


 
Clair Blacketer Madison for Keeps chart

SUMMARY: Clair Blacketer ('10) is a beneficiary of the first Madison for Keeps scholarship drive in 2009-10. The scholarship made it possible for Blacketer to return for her senior year and concentrate on epidemiology. Today, she is an associate director and epidemiologist at Janssen, the pharmaceutical arm of Johnson & Johnson.


By David Taylor (’85)

Someday, a vaccine might bring the COVID-19 public health emergency to an end. Until then, scientists in every country continue to pore over data, seeking to unlock secrets that can help doctors find more effective treatments and public health officials develop better guidelines to keep people safe. Motivated by the deadly urgency of the pandemic, the collection of this data from millions of cases is unprecedented. Making sense of it all is an equally unparalleled challenge that starts with ensuring the data itself is usable. 

“Unless you have high-quality data, you will never have high-quality evidence for making decisions,” said Clair Blacketer (’10), an associate director and epidemiologist at Janssen, the pharmaceutical arm of Johnson & Johnson. She notes that there have already been missteps caused by bad data, referring to the early June retraction of articles in The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet that addressed the use of a malaria drug for treating COVID-19.

Health data quality has become Blacketer’s niche, and she is now an international expert on the subject. Collaborating with the Observational Health Data Sciences and Informatics group, a global network of researchers, Blacketer has developed a data quality tool being widely used by the European Health Data and Evidence Network as well as by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. On a typical day, Blacketer can be found examining the quality of COVID-19 data sets from around the world, teaching other scientists how to use her techniques, and writing papers about her work as part of her doctoral studies at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

“I feel like I can do something to contribute, and that feels really good,” she said. Her research, which is being used by the National COVID Cohort Collaborative, is making a difference in managing a disease that will define a generation.  

Clair Blacketer Madison for Keeps podium
Blacketer has become an international expert on health and data quality.

Blacketer’s story might have been far different if she hadn’t received emergency funding as an undergraduate student back in 2010. “I don’t know if I would be where I am today without the Madison for Keeps scholarship I received 10 years ago,” she said. Blacketer is one of 107 JMU alumni who were able to complete their degrees because of the first Madison for Keeps scholarship drive in 2009-10.

The summer before her senior year at JMU, Blacketer had just changed her major to epidemiology—but then she found out she might not be able to complete her degree at all. “My father had a tumor on his spine. He wasn’t able to work, and I knew there wouldn’t be enough money for me to finish college,” she said. 

The scholarship made it possible for Blacketer to return for her senior year and concentrate on epidemiology. Then a biology professor, Chris Lantz (’90), suggested she enroll in his Global Health course, and she knew she had found her path. The following year, she enrolled at Eastern Virginia Medical School for her master’s degree and eventually landed at Jannsen in 2015. 

Now, Blacketer is working hard to ensure that researchers and health officials worldwide have reliable data. As a result, researchers will find better treatments for COVID-19 patients, and officials will find better ways to keep the rest of us as safe as possible until a vaccine conceivably brings the pandemic to an end.

###

Madison banner 2018

Back to Top

Published: Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Last Updated: Monday, August 31, 2020

Related Articles