Seeding Trust in a COVID-19 Vaccine

Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled the need for public health practitioners exponentially, Andrew Korman, MPH ’20, entered the public health job market at an ironically fortuitous time.

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syringes.
We want people to understand that no safety measures are being skipped to expedite the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
Andrew Korman.

Once he graduated from UB, he immediately found work on the front lines of the public health response as a research data associate with NYU Langone Health Vaccine Center at its Brooklyn location.

What does a research data associate do?

I collect and report data to our study sponsor. Right now, we are recruiting and enrolling participants for AstraZeneca’s Phase III COVID-19 Vaccine Trial. I also contribute to the Vaccine Center’s community engagement efforts. Our goal is to foster meaningful connections with community stakeholders in order to enhance awareness of and access to the Vaccine Center. We have been reaching out to potential [vaccine trial] participants and community members to educate them on COVID-19 as well as what’s happening at the vaccine center. We’ve hit the ground canvassing in person and interfacing with NYU clinics, providers and patients, and community organizations like homeless shelters.

What’s the goal?

We’re providing people with correct information because lots of the news and perceptions out there of COVID-19 are not the big picture. Our task has been correcting misperceptions about COVID-19 and the vaccine. For instance, some people say they don’t want to be “guinea pigs,” but vaccines have always been an important public health tool. They were designated the leading public health achievement of the 20th Century. We want people to understand that no safety measures are being skipped to expedite the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. All potential vaccines will go through extensive safety and regulatory processes to ensure the safety, efficacy and quality of the vaccines.

How are people reacting to your message?

The reception to our messages depends on their demographics and pre-existing conditions. Lots of people are not excited about joining a clinical trial, but their contribution by participating is so important. We’re trying to find the balance between the benefit to participants, the contribution to a large-scale clinical trial and the larger public-health apparatus. The most important message is to stay up to date with the newest information. We’re all learning everything at the same time. With an ever-changing landscape, public health practitioners have the knowledge to inform the general population of best practices.

Why did you decide to get a degree in public health?

I got my bachelor’s degree in exercise science and originally wanted to pursue a doctor of physical therapy degree. During my senior year I took my first and only public health course, Public Health 101 with Dr. Sarahmona Przybyla, and that was it. She opened my eyes to the importance of prevention and community engagement. From that class alone, I decided to apply for the MPH Program. Dr. Przybyla became my advisor and mentor throughout the program and really helped with my public health education.

How would you characterize your education?

vaccination.

As a recent grad, I feel like I’m prepared to fight a global pandemic. The caliber of education I received gave me the foundation I needed to step into the role of fast-paced science and regulation.

What do you remember best about your time at SPHHP?

Conducting my field training at the Centers for Disease Control in the Office of Smoking and Health. I conducted research with the senior medical officer there identifying common myths about nicotine-replacement therapy and how that affected people who smoked. I got to experience interprofessional education in real life, working with communicators, analysts, doctors—it was my first time in a real-world setting where I had to interface with all kinds of people. It really helps in my current job where I interact with doctors, regulators, nurses, and other professionals.

How did COVID-19 affect what you’re doing currently?

I was not planning on going the infectious disease route. At the CDC, I gravitated toward chronic disease research and prevention. With the pandemic, I pivoted and filled a gap that’s needed in my community, because I had the experience in community health, communications, etc.

Why is public health an important profession?

My public health philosophy comes from W. Edwards Deming: “Every system is perfectly designed for the results it gets.” With the impact of this virus, it’s clear our system was not equipped to handle the huge density of hot spots and exponential growth of cases throughout the country. It’s important to triage the situation but also understand the system we’re working with is not designed to get the results we want. You can see how the social determinants of health are affecting health outcomes, and using that broad perspective in the landscape of this virus is necessary to overcome it.

What’s most meaningful to you about your career?

Giving back to the community in the small way I can and progress the vaccine. Also, educating regular people, public health professionals and doctors about the best practices of dealing with COVID-19 by keeping up with current literature and informing all stakeholders about what’s needed from everyone.

Why should someone consider a degree in public health?

Especially after the pandemic, public health is going to get the respect it deserves. It’s been neglected, but now it’s growing exponentially in importance and reach. This is the time to push for policies and best practices that influence public health, and not just focus on the bottom line.

Contact Andrew Korman at afkorman@buffalo.edu or connect with him on LinkedIn.