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HSPH Faculty Spearhead National Covid-19 Response Efforts Through Bipartisan, Interdisciplinary Initiative

The COVID Collaborative is a coalition of American health experts, economic leaders, and educators promoting public health policies.
The COVID Collaborative is a coalition of American health experts, economic leaders, and educators promoting public health policies. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Ariel H. Kim and Anjeli R. Macaranas, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard School of Public Health Dean Michelle A. Williams said in an interview she was “inspired” to co-found the COVID Collaborative — a coalition of leading health and economic experts promoting comprehensive public health policies — in an effort to help direct local and national responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID Collaborative is a coalition of health experts, economic leaders, and educators promoting sustainable and comprehensive policies affecting the public’s health.

The initiative was founded to remedy a disjointed national response to the pandemic, according to COVID Collaborative’s co-founder and CEO John M. Bridgeland ’82, former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.

“I was struck by the fact that in a time of crisis, there wasn't strong presidential leadership, and there wasn't a clear national plan,” Bridgeland said.

In December, the COVID Collaborative issued a list of recommendations to policymakers titled “Call to Action to Defeat COVID-19 and Promote National Recovery and Renewal.” The list recommends common, comprehensive action across all states in five critical areas: testing, contact tracing, public health and social measures, vaccines and treatments, and common indicators of success.

A bipartisan group of governors representing one-third of Americans issued support for the recommendations at the end of 2020, marking the first bipartisan collaboration to address Covid-19 since the onset of the pandemic, per a press release published by the Collaborative.

Howard K. Koh, a national advisor for the Collaborative and HSPH professor of the practice of public health leadership, said the initiative has centered its focus on increasing vaccination rates through public education efforts, especially among high-risk populations.

“The group has led lots of efforts that have trusted messengers from all sectors of society come forward and send a unified message that vaccinations are life-saving and a way of helping your family and your society right now,” Koh said.

Williams said she believes there is a “structural flaw” in the way government and institutions are currently communicating health risks and responses.

“We tend to design the messages for middle-class America, and when we do that, we forget the very people who are the most vulnerable,” she said. “They are the afterthought.”

The Collaborative launched a $50 million vaccination education campaign in partnership with the Ad Council that aims to provide scientifically-backed and culturally-informed vaccine messaging, especially to people of color.

“The current emphasis, of course, is getting vaccination rates as high as possible so the country can achieve herd immunity,” Koh said. “And if we do that, we can have a chance to return to some sense of normalcy.”

The overarching goal of the Collaborative is not only to enhance the country’s Covid-19 response but also to bring together people of various backgrounds and political affiliations so they can work in tandem to address future crises, according to Bridgeland.

“We also have the ambition, that underlines all this, to transcend politics and to show that Americans across politics and difference and race and ethnicity and background can come together in common purpose to solve and hack tough problems,” Bridgeland said.

In addition to crossing “political boundaries,” Williams noted the Collective's desire to engage academics across disciplines and bridge the gap between the public and private sector.

“We wanted to engage the corporate voice, and then we wanted to really demonstrate that we as an academic body can partner with all other sectors, and bring the best of science, unlock the knowledge the capacity that exists in our universities, and bring it down to the level of the community because that’s what we should be doing every day,” Williams said.

Koh similarly noted that the Collaborative’s efforts draw on the work of countless individuals across various fields.

“I'm just one of many soldiers in the army,” Koh said.

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at ariel.kim@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Anjeli R. Macaranas can be reached at anjeli.macaranas@thecrimson.com.

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