Coronavirus: Leadership During Crisis

Washington Post Live hosted an event to discuss the struggles and opportunities leaders are facing during the pandemic

As distribution rates for the COVID-19 vaccine increase across the country, many states are now refocusing their efforts on streamlining and demystifying the process. Earlier this month, Washington Post Live hosted an event with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) and Jake Wood, co-founder and CEO of Team Rubicon, to discuss leadership during the pandemic.

During the event, Governor Northam touched on his office’s efforts to make the vaccine rollout more efficient after Virginia’s initial struggles, while Wood discussed his non-profit, which deploys tens of thousands of military veterans across the country to serve as disaster response teams.

Governor Northam on Virginia’s efforts to streamline the vaccination rollout:

In the conversation with Washington Post Live, Governor Northam discussed the lack of a “one size fits all” solution, since each state has to deal with its own unique challenges. Virginia, for example, isn’t receiving enough vaccine shipments each week to hit their 50,000-dose goal by this spring. However, Northam noted that his professional background may be useful in the coming months.

Before he became Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Northam attended Eastern Virginia Medical School, practiced pediatric neurology at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk, and volunteered as medical director for the Edmarc Hospice for Children in Portsmouth. He now feels this hands-on medical experience could help him ensure an efficient vaccine rollout for his state.

For example, Governor Northam shared that he was not satisfied with Virginia’s initial vaccination pace of approximately 14,000 a day, so he brought in a field general to oversee distribution.

Dr. Danny T.K. Avula, director of the Richmond City and Henrico County health departments, is a public health physician certified in pediatrics and preventive medicine. As a physician himself, Governor Northam said that he could trust Dr. Avula’s ability to coordinate with the many parties involved to improve vaccine distribution. Under Dr. Avula’s supervision, Virginia has been able to increase its distribution rate to approximately 40,000 doses a day.

“I won’t be satisfied until every Virginian has a shot in their arm,” Governor Northam said.

And when asked for his opinion on President Biden’s plan to send vaccine supplies to pharmacies, Governor Northam referred to it as “another tool in our toolbox.” He explained that many Virginians already go to pharmacies to get their yearly flu shots, so it would be extremely convenient to set them up as COVID-19 vaccination sites. The governor noted that Virginia has already set up 36 CVS vaccination sites, but he hopes to create additional sites in churches and mobile units across the state in order to reach underserved communities.

Team Rubicon CEO Jake Wood on finding unique solutions during the pandemic:

Jake Wood, the co-founder and CEO of Team Rubicon—a non-profit organization that utilizes the skills of military veterans to deploy disaster response teams—took a different approach to combating the challenges of COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

To aid in distribution efforts, Team Rubicon launched the “Veterans Coalition for Vaccination,” in which veterans assist vaccination sites by aiding with site setup, ensuring that social distancing and mask requirements are being followed, and monitoring people after they are vaccinated. These “Greyshirt” volunteers are currently supporting 24 different vaccination sites across nine states and have aided the distribution of over 45,000 immunizations. 

Speaking with Washington Post Live, Wood explained how the key to efficient distribution is to use tightly-coordinated systems which aren’t overly complex.

“Coordination is the key to staying alive on the battlefield, so this is second nature for veterans,” Wood said.

He also shared his hope that more states will increase their distribution capacity by allowing qualified professionals such as veterans, dentists, veterinarians, and EMTs to give vaccinations. This, he noted, would relieve some of the burden for other healthcare workers who have worked tirelessly over the past year.

To sum it up...

These two leaders are pursuing very different routes towards their common goal of achieving the widespread immunization that could end this pandemic. But both agree that a “one size fits all” solution is not an option, and that our country’s leaders must collaborate with a wider group of experts and professionals in order to get vaccines out in a timely manner.

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