COVID-19 heroes and leaders: Stories told through our podcast
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COVID-19 heroes and leaders: Stories told through our podcast

October 14, 2021
Jessie Stern

In photo above: From left to right, Dr. Gary Gibbons, Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable and Ian Brownlee.

When COVID-19 hit the U.S., federal workers from every corner of the public sector sprang into action. Without them, our nation’s response to the pandemic would look vastly different than it does today.

Several federal employees who led—and continue to lead—this response were featured on two recent episodes of the Partnership’s new podcast, “Profiles in Public Service.” Hosted by Loren DeJonge Schulman and Rachel Klein-Kircher, the podcast breaks down myths about government by highlighting the critical ways in which federal employees have demonstrated bold leadership to protect our health, safety and general well-being.

Underserved communities need vaccines, too

As COVID-19 spread throughout the country and the globe, the federal government worked in concert with private pharmaceutical companies to develop an effective vaccine that would slow the pandemic and prevent people from serious illness. However, increasing vaccine acceptance in underserved communities proved challenging.

Two leaders from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Gary Gibbons and Eliseo Pérez-Stable, worked to address this challenge by establishing outreach programs that funded new partnerships between the NIH and local organizations to inform wary populations about COVID-19 testing and new vaccine trials.

On “Profiles in Public Service,” Perez-Stable explained that he and his team anticipated that COVID-19 would exacerbate health disparities that already existed for certain racial and ethnic groups—especially given the fact that some of those groups were and are overrepresented in essential service occupations. “By the time April was rolling around and you were seeing who was in the wards, it was quite clear it was affecting communities of color adversely,” Gibbons added.

To learn more about Drs. Gibbons and Pérez-Stable’s work, listen to “Battling COVID-19 Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health.”

The path to repatriation: How the State Department brought Americans home in the wake of a global pandemic

As the pandemic intensified and reached U.S. shores, it became clear that Americans traveling abroad risked being stranded overseas by nationwide lockdowns and border closures. Our government faced the near-impossible task of locating and repatriating American citizens from all corners of the globe. Ian Brownlee, then the acting assistant secretary for consular affairs at the State Department, set up a multi-agency task force to manage this complex process.  

“We had to have our embassies overseas negotiating with local governments, and in many cases, provincial governments, to convince them to let busloads of Americans come through or to allow us to lay on short-haul flights to move people from one place to the international airport,” Brownlee said.

To learn more about Brownlee’s remarkable efforts, listen to “Going to the Ends of the Earth.

Learn more about the accomplishments of our nation’s unsung public servants by listening to “Profiles in Public Service” on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Jessie Stern is an intern on the Partnership’s Communications team.

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