Workforce/Vaccine Initiative Bolsters Health Departments Across the Nation in COVID-19 Response

In the Spring of 2021, with the ongoing shock of the coronavirus pandemic still reverberating across the globe, health departments in the United States faced the challenge of continuing to track COVID-19 cases while expanding the rollout of newly approved COVID-19 vaccines to tens of millions of people. To assist health departments nationwide, the CDC Foundation stepped up with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and created the Workforce/Vaccine Initiative, designed to fill critical public health roles as identified by jurisdictions in states, cities, tribal areas and territories. 

In total, the Foundation team has supported staff in 87 jurisdictions with more than 3,000 public health professionals over the past few years, serving in a wide variety of positions. These staff included individuals working as epidemiologists, communications specialists, data analysts, public health nurses, infection preventionists and in many other roles—each person directly impacting the health and well-being of communities across the country.  

Along with providing support for key COVID-19 activities like contact tracing and variant testing, Workforce/Vaccine team members also worked on other important public health activities. Below are some examples of this work in action: 

  • Health equity: Addressing an ongoing need, health equity program managers were hired in many jurisdictions to address the challenges of social inequities and equal access to care by developing strategic programs and partnerships, assuring inclusive data management, and participating in community outreach and education.  
  • Schools: More than 700 field employees helped establish connections between health departments and K–12 schools to support students, parents and staff with contact tracing and information sharing and to aid in implementing impactful programs like “Test to Stay.” As Dawn Seymore, assigned to the Georgia Department of Health, said at the time, “During the 2021–2022 school year, we were able to provide testing for nearly 70 school districts and 400+ individual schools.” 
  • Tribal jurisdictions: Along with testing, communication and vaccination support efforts, CDC Foundation field employees—many tribal members themselves—worked to strengthen public health infrastructure. Tribal Senior Public Health Advisor Joseph Eltobgi of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, explained, "We realized that providing data to our tribal leaders was absolutely essential to create the type of change we envision for our people.” 
  • Vaccination efforts: Vaccine demand strategists developed innovative approaches to address hesitancy and promote uptake among children, adults and families in rural, suburban and urban neighborhoods across the nation. In Ohio, CDC Foundation field staff managed an entire project centered around mobile vaccine units, from reviewing and scoring proposals and selecting the vendor, to scheduling visits in communities across the state.  

Supported by an experienced leadership team, as well as human resources, information technology, communications, finance, internal operations and other Foundation departments, the team structure wouldn’t have been successful without the work of a dedicated group of regional and area coordinators, who provided leadership to the field employees hired for the initiative. These managers played a critical role, providing one-on-one counsel and guidance throughout the project and bridging the gaps between the Foundation and the jurisdictional site leads. 

Dr. Judy Monroe, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation, is appreciative and impressed with the individual and collective efforts of every one of these workers: “I want each individual to know just how important their work has been in helping to confront the most severe and dangerous health threat we’ve faced globally in more than a century. Through their work with state, local, tribal and territorial health departments, they have made an incredible impact.” 

I want each individual to know just how important their work has been in helping to confront the most severe and dangerous health threat we’ve faced globally in more than a century.

She continued, “As the CEO of the Foundation, my job requires that I’m on calls or in meetings with public health groups across the nation. I have consistently heard from public health officers and from those running public health organizations about the important impact of this initiative.”  

“So, I want to say thank you to these staff members. Thanks for your dedication and commitment to making a difference and helping to truly save and improve lives during this very difficult and challenging pandemic.” 

This blog is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $220,000,000 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, CDC/HHS or the U.S. Government. 

Toni Perling
Toni Perling is a senior communications officer for the CDC Foundation.