PS21 Cover Slide

Recap: 2021 Preparedness Summit

Apr 16, 2021 | Beth Hess

The 2021 Preparedness Summit, presented virtually April 13 to 15, offered the 1,100 people engaging with the conference a much-needed opportunity to share their experiences, learn from others, and mobilize our fields as the enduring COVID-19 pandemic continues to intersect with other crises. Over the three day-event, attendees participated in more than 100 demos, workshops, learning sessions, and town halls, and heard from expert-led panels.

The conference theme, When Crisis is Commonplace: Transforming Your Community’s Public Health Preparedness Practices, provided a backdrop for a variety of Summit conversations, from small networking groups to town halls, roundtables, and general sessions.

Attendees participated in more than 35 live demos and workshops focused on a range of preparedness topics. The Summit offered nine partner and policy town halls on topics ranging from building the capacity of the rural and frontier workforce during COVID-19 to implications of disaster response for the disability community and others with access and functional needs, and more.

Tuesday: Ready and Resilient: Envisioning Preparedness into the Future

NACCHO Chief Executive Officer Lori Tremmel Freeman, MBA, opened the conference by welcoming attendees and observing a moment of silence for those lost to the pandemic. She highlighted the role of planning in COVID-19 response and how the pandemic has spotlighted the importance of a strong public health system.

NACCHO Senior Director of Preparedness Laura Biesiadecki, MSPH, welcomed attendees on behalf of the planning committee and recognized the Florida Department of Health in Hernando County for achieving Project Public Health Ready recognition this year.

NACCHO President and Director of the Farmington Valley Health District (CT), Jennifer Kertanis, MPH, served as moderator for the day’s plenary. She highlighted the tireless, ongoing work to combat the pandemic and also how it has presented an opportunity for us to focus on the necessary changes and investments required to strengthen and build a robust governmental public health system whose foundation is its workforce.

Bechara Choucair, MD, Vaccinations Coordinator for the White House COVID Response Team, discussed the comprehensive, whole of government national strategy to fight the pandemic. He stressed that mounting a safe, effective, and comprehensive vaccination campaign is a key tenet of that strategy on the vaccination front. He also shared the need to expand capacity to prepare for and prevent future pandemics and to do so in a way that brings in people from the communities hit hardest by COVID-19.

Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, Director for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, began with thanking public health officials, sharing that public health has never been more visible or more urgently needed then now. She emphasized a need to fully leverage this moment to overhaul the long-neglected infrastructure of our public health systems, and to plan now for the next 20 to 30 years to protect health security.

Jonathan Greene, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Office of Operations and Resources in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stressed the need for collaboration across the federal, local, tribal, and territorial levels, and across the private sector. He called for us to emerge from this unprecedented event with a collective understanding of what needs to be done to transform our nation’s public health and healthcare systems and its infrastructure to better protect us from health security threats of the future.

Wednesday: A Path Forward: Paving the Way to Restore the Public’s Trust in Science and Public Health

NACCHO’s Chief, Government & Public Affairs, Adriane Cassaloti, MPH, MSW, moderated Wednesday’s plenary. She remarked that, in many ways, public health successes rely on strong public trust, clear communication, and the ability to move the public to act on that information. She also noted the key role that media plays in getting our messages out.

Michelle Lehman, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs at the National Association of Broadcasters, opened the session by sharing findings from the association’s survey in partnership with the Reynolds Journalism Institute of more than 3,000 adults. The survey explored which mediums and messengers respondents found most reliable, what Americans want to know about the vaccine, and perceptions around vaccine confidence.

Lauren Weber, Midwest Correspondent for Kaiser Health News, emphasized the importance of building relationships from day one with local members of the media. She also noted how vital local reporting is to public accountability.

Sheri Fink, PhD, Correspondent for The New York Times, stressed a need for “social listening” and being proactive when combating misinformation. She also highlighted the importance of data for decision making along with the need for modernization within the public health infrastructure.

Charles D. Ellison, Executive Producer and Host of Reality Check for Philadelphia’s WURD Radio, shared how vital user-friendly data is for communicating with vulnerable populations. He also noted the importance of social media within any communications strategy, the need to have a crisis communications plan in place, and how media can be an asset, especially when good relationships have been established.

Thursday: Forging the Way: Meeting the Challenges of a Historic Vaccination Effort

Dr. Oscar Alleyne, DrPH, MPH, Chief of Programs and Services at NACCHO, opened Thursday’s session, sharing that our resilience and fortitude over the past year is the reason public health is considered a safety net. He also noted the importance of forging partnerships and the role that vaccines play in bringing the community back together.

Boris Lushniak, MD, MPH, Professor and Dean, UMD School of Public Health, served as panel moderator.

Lisa Coen, U.S. Public Affairs Lead at Pfizer Vaccines, shared key milestones in the development process of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. She stressed the important role that manufacturers play in educating the public, particularly in diverse communities, about the vaccine, and about the safety and regulatory processes that are so important in developing and approving vaccines. She also noted that messengers matter in the success of any immunization program.

Richard Hughes, IV, JD, MPH, Vice President of Public Policy at Moderna, shared his excitement about the future of vaccine development and the increased understanding among the public of vaccines and public health. He also noted the role that public-private partnerships have played in the course of the pandemic and the role that they might have in the future.

Phyllis Arthur, Vice President of Infectious Diseases and Diagnostics Policy at Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), noted that, over the past 14 months, the industry has brought everything to bear against this pandemic with more than 800 products to treat, diagnose, or vaccinate in active research and development. She highlighted the industry’s commitment to transparency and scientific rigor. She also shared details of the BIO campaign to educate the public and provide resources and education to trusted messengers within a variety of communities.

Conference Content Available On-Demand

Conference attendees have full access to plenary and town hall recordings, demos, workshops, the sponsor gallery, and other conference offerings. If you did not register for the conference but would like on-demand access to the sessions, you can still register.

Save the date for the 2022 Preparedness Conference April 3–7 in Atlanta. For more about the conference, visit

About Beth Hess

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