‘Vac-to-Normal’ team wins COVID-19 vaccine challenge

Published December 17, 2020

With the FDA’s recent emergency approval of a COVID-19 vaccine, UB’s COVID-19 Vaccine Challenge Innovation Sprint last month couldn’t have been more relevant.

Multidisciplinary teams of students strategized virtually to meet the hypothetical challenge: Help your employer, a Western New York health department, vaccinate as many people as possible while providing accurate information, combatting misinformation and pseudoscience, and ensuring equitable access to vaccines in your community.

The Office of Global Health Initiatives hosted the challenge, which was designed to give students experience in not only with developing and pitching an idea, but also with working with people from other disciplines. Challenge judges reflected a range of disciplines, which they brought to bear on their appraisals of the teams’ proposals.

Team Vac-to-Normal came out on top, winning over the judges with its emphasis on mitigating health disparities in Western New York, especially among Black and Native American communities. The approach featured a partnership among community leaders, the Department of Health, experts from UB, small business owners, the Buffalo Bills and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The team also stressed the potential of using mobile clinics — even food trucks — to ensure the vaccine would be readily available and equitably distributed.

The teams that placed in the contest:

First place: Vac-to-Normal — Oluwademilade Daniel Aguda, biotechnology; Ritika Bhajiawala, biological sciences; Steven Gabriel, MBA/MPH; Ray Huang, public health/psychology; and Kelly Law, MPH.

Second place: Power Vaxxers — Supriya Mahajan, MPH; Mridu Moitra, biomedical engineering; Lianne Novak, MPH; Maisha Rahman, public health; and Sadia Rifah, public health.

Third place: #VaxUp — Crystal Asabor, public health; Ali Attai, computer science; Parveen Attai, epidemiology MPH; Nelli Kisliuk, public health; Asiya Mohamed, French; and Maia Weiss, biology.

Fourth place: Vital Consultants — Gabriel Attallah, EMBA, MD; Anjali Bhagavatula, biotechnology; Nicole LoCascio, MPH; Ashiqi Shaji, public health; and Paige Sinsebox, MPH.

UB's Blackstone LaunchPad & TechStars organized the COVID-19 Vaccine Challenge.