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Philanthropy needs to grab the public health baton

Philanthropy needs to grab the public health baton
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On Dec. 8, my phone was abuzz with notifications — people in the United Kingdom were receiving the first clinically authorized COVID-19 vaccine. Less than a week later, nearly 3 million doses started being distributed to all 50 states. On Dec. 14, Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse in Queens, received one of the first COVID-19 vaccines in the United States.  

We’ve officially ushered in the most complex public health effort in human history.

In the past year, scientists and doctors — and regulators, too — have pushed themselves to achieve the impossible. The plan — according to Operation Warp Speed — is to get vaccines to each state, then pass the baton of combating the virus to state health officials.  

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State officials will do their best, but they can’t do it alone. Everyone has a part to play in distributing these vaccines safely and equitably. Just like the brilliant scientists working tirelessly this past year, we must all rise to this occasion. Those with resources — individuals, foundations and corporations — now have an opportunity to lead in aiding the distribution efforts.

Achieving rapid distribution to much of the country’s population will not happen immediately. The public health strategies that have shaped pandemic response in the past year — requiring masks in crowded settings, avoiding gatherings between households, and contact-tracing to isolate all exposed individuals — will need to continue until a critical mass of the population has been vaccinated. As Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care: Biden adviser delivers more pessimistic prediction on vaccine rollout | CDC says coronavirus could kill up to 514K by Feb. 20 | Vaccine research funds have been misused for decades, watchdog says Fauci confident vaccine companies ready for 'mutant' coronavirus strains Fauci defends Birx: 'She had to live in the White House' MORE and numerous public health officials have said, impacts of the vaccinations won’t come overnight. While these are familiar principles to most, building community trust of the vaccine and supporting the vaccine’s widespread implementation will be essential to its success in controlling the pandemic.

While philanthropy can’t singlehandedly ensure a quality outcome, it can play a critical role. Here’s how: 

  • Partner: Foundations, individuals and businesses can reach out to their local public health officials and ask how they can help support best-case-scenario outcomes.

  • Educate: Communicate fact-based public health education to increase public trust of the vaccine and encourage people to take it.
  • Advocate: Work with public health officials to ensure local communities have equitable access to vaccine distribution — especially if your corporation or foundation has ties to a specific constituency. Communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 should take priority.

  • Invest: Bolster community health departments’ tactical distribution efforts by funding additional worker salaries and infrastructure such as refrigeration and storage.

  • Volunteer: When possible, bring down the burden of already stretched staffers — pitch in to make calls, put up signs, or ask how else you and your organization can be of service.

  • Share: If your corporation owns large spaces such as arenas or warehouses, provide access to these resources for vaccine storage and administration. With 20 percent of Americans living more than five miles away from a pharmacy expected to carry the COVID-19 vaccine, sharing resources in these “vaccine deserts” will be critical.

  • Influence: When it’s your turn, let your community know you’ve been vaccinated — we all must lead by example.

  • Prizes and swag: Ensuring patients take the second dose will be critical. Help your brand share love with the folks who complete their vaccination series.

When the pandemic began, the outpouring of support from the philanthropic community — from individuals, corporations and foundations alike — was inspiring. Until COVID-19 has been eradicated worldwide, philanthropy can and must help carry this work forward.

We’ve had unprecedented breakthroughs in science to get the vaccine ready. Now, we need unprecedented breakthroughs in community collaboration to get the vaccine distributed and utilized. The scientists have passed the baton. It’s our turn to run with it.

Emily Kane Miller is founder and CEO of Ethos Giving, and co-founder of the Emergency Supply Donor Group and The Greater Los Angeles Hospital Registry. She also is a scholar in residence at The Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab at the USC Marshall School of Business.