Opinion: Public-private partnerships key to beating pandemic

Over the past year, COVID-19 has impacted everyone’s lives in Connecticut. The start of the vaccination process is a critical and welcome next step in the fight against this deadly virus, but it is not a battle that any single entity or organization can wage alone. To beat the pandemic, the public and private sectors must creatively work together in a way not seen since the 1918 influenza pandemic, World War II and the Civil Rights movement.

It was in that spirit of common purpose and collaboration that AT&T and the city of New Haven joined forces in late 2020 to roll out the first phase (1a) of a four-part immunization campaign aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 in the city.

On Dec. 28, we joined New Haven Health Director Maritza Bond and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz in front of the city’s Health Department to launch the campaign. City Fire Chief John Alston Jr., and several prominent city health care professionals were also on hand to support the effort and among the first in the city to get shots of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

As we expand this effort in the coming months, our success will hinge on spreading the message of the vaccine’s safety and the crucial importance of getting vaccinated. Reaching Black, brown and Latinx communities — where there is a lack of access to health care, language barriers and less trust in vaccines — is vital. Bond and the New Haven Health Department, along with many community partners, are working hard to dispel myths and misinformation about the vaccines’ safety and efficacy.

AT&T saw an opportunity to amplify the message and quickly “answered the call,” generously providing the first 10,000 people vaccinated in New Haven with “COVID-19 Vaccinated” or “COVID-19 Vacunado” lapel pins. Dubbed “badges of honor” and “pandemic time capsule keepsakes,” the pins are a small way to thank those who step up to get the shots and remind those who haven’t to register to get one as soon as they are eligible. Much like the “I Voted” stickers on Election Day, the pins are a symbol of our ability to unify around a common purpose, even in times of crisis.

Just having the vaccine available, however, is not going to defeat the virus. We will defeat this virus when everyone gets a vaccination. Getting there will require continued partnerships like the one between the city of New Haven and AT&T and sustained messaging to reach our most challenged and vulnerable communities.

In much the way we wear masks to protect ourselves and others from infection, public-private partnerships are mutually beneficial and promote the greater good. As we move into the next phases of the vaccine roll-out, it’s important to remember that we are still all in this together. Joining forces is the best and fastest way to save lives, restore the economy, and return to daily life as we once knew it, filled with family, friends and the freedom to gather when, where, and with as many people as we wish.

John Emra is president of AT&T New England and a board member of REX Development. Ginny Kozlowski is executive director of REX Development.