An interview with Julie Rosenberg ’98, Ariadne Labs Assistant Director
First off, tell us a little bit about your background. What all have you been doing since you graduated Paideia, and where are you now?
I currently live in Decatur, GA with my two children, Maddie and Henry. Since graduating, I’ve primarily been working on issues related to social justice and health care. I spent the year after high school in Peru with a community-based health organization, Partners in Health, and that shaped my trajectory. I worked with the organization throughout my time at Harvard College and studied anthropology, Spanish and did pre-med coursework. I had a host of experiences, including working in development for nonprofits and working in clinical research, before getting my master’s in public health at Emory. I then went back to work with colleagues from Partners in Health on a new academic endeavor they were starting at the time, the Global Health Delivery Project at Harvard. I’ve stuck with this team since that time, studying what works in health care delivery and developing curricula to train the next generation of global health leaders. I also run a program called Better Evidence—from Ariadne Labs, a joint center for health systems innovation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health– that aims to equip providers serving vulnerable populations with digital tools to improve care. Since the pandemic started, we have been thinking about how to ensure that investments and scientific discoveries lead to equitable, effective vaccination programs. We have also been helping decision makers prepare for this moment of vaccine delivery that we are now in.
With regards to COVD-19, can you tell us about the vaccines that are starting to become available?
[I will try to answer this but the science is changing so quickly that it’s possible that between now and when this goes to print, the information will be out of date. What may be unique about COVID-19 vaccines is that this is the fastest we’ve ever had a vaccine approved and manufactured for use and the investments in COVID-19 vaccines have overshadowed investments in other vaccines.] Pfizer, working with BioNTech, and Moderna have both gotten mRNA vaccines approved for emergency use in the US. Both of these vaccines are about 95% effective in preventing Covid-19 and require two doses and cold storage. Johnson and Johnson is awaiting emergency use approval from the US FDA for a vaccine that will be single dose and require less stringent cold storage.
Studies show that even vaccines with modest efficacy can still result in large reductions in COVID infections and deaths if they are quickly delivered to a large percentage of a population. Speed may be even more important than efficacy in some ways, especially as we see new variants emerge.
A lot of things will impact how quickly a vaccine is rolled out in a population, including manufacturing capacity or supply, the development of equitable distribution systems and infrastructure, and related logistical considerations as well as how willing people are to get the vaccine.
Is this going to be an annual vaccine like the flu, or a “one-time” or “every 12 years" kind of schedule, or do we not know?
We don’t know yet how long the protective effect of these vaccines will last or whether they will prevent vaccinated individuals from transmitting the disease. There’s a lot we don’t know about the vaccines and coronavirus yet. It’s likely we will need boosters of some type. We are learning as we go and trying to shape our response.
As different groups get vaccinated, when does the impact of the pandemic begin to lessen in a way that everyone begins to reap benefits?
I think we are all already beginning to reap the benefits of vaccine because we can see there is light at the end of the tunnel. One of the big lessons of this pandemic is that we are all connected. When those who are most at risk or most vulnerable to coronavirus are able to live without such extreme worry or isolation, we all begin to benefit. Our health care workers can do their jobs with greater confidence, and our grandparents do not have to live in such extreme isolation. We’ve seen some nursing homes start to offer communal meals again.
But, there is a still a long way to go in ensuring the vaccines are allocated equitably in the US and across the world, allocated in a way that will benefit all of us. Everyone will benefit from waiting their turn and supporting the systems that the public health community is putting in place.
It’s important to remember that even once vaccinated, we will all need to wear masks because the vaccine is not 100% effective, and we don’t know enough about how effective it is against the various variants now circulating or the new strains that will continue to emerge.
By this fall, in the US, I imagine the pandemic will not impact our daily lives as much as it currently does. The new administration is working hard to try to see that this is the case.
If you could go back in time and give the high-school version of yourself advice, what would it be?
I think Paideia prepared me well to ask the right questions, take risks, explore, think big. That was really important. Other advice… There’s not only one right choice. Follow your heart and passion. One step at a time.
Any favorite teacher(s) you want to give a thank you or shout out to?
Paideia has so many wonderful teachers who nurture our minds, hearts, and souls and I am grateful for this early launchpad! Many of my best early teachers are no longer teaching (Missy Aue, Martha Roark, Martha Alexander, Bernie Schein, Susan Ehrhardt (RIP), Ginger Birdsey). The next generation is lucky to continue to learn from greats such as Paul Bianchi, Clark Cloyd, Joseph Cullen, Donna Ellwood, Rick Goldstein, David Millians, Tom Pierce, Catherine Tipton, and Stacy Winston. Thank you all and so many others who helped shape my path.