ITHACA, N.Y.—Cornell University and New York State have officially launched its public health corps program that was announced in January, seemingly the first of its kind in the United States. It debuts with a goal of “boosting and expanding the state’s effort to distribute the vaccine to as many of its 19+ million people.”

Cornell’s role will be to develop 1,000 public health fellows who will take online courses to help train them in outreach and awareness about the vaccine—the end result being that more people take the vaccine and overall long-term health outcomes throughout the state improve. The school is partnering with Northwell Health System for the initiative.

The program is open to all New Yorkers, free of charge and comes in four parts, and after people complete each part they will be known as “NYS Citizen Public Health Leaders,” hopefully equipped with enough knowledge and training to assist local health departments currently and in the event of any public health emergency going forward. The intro video here gives an example of what people can expect to learn in the courses.

“We are honored to partner with Governor Cuomo and the State of New York to create the new Public Health Corps,” said Martha Pollack, the school’s president. “As a leading research university, Cornell looks forward to training those who will do the critical work of ensuring the fair and effective distribution of the vaccine to the people of New York.”

The program will be made up of a series of online courses that can be taken, which are under development by eCornell now.

According to studies, 40 percent of the country doesn’t trust the coronavirus vaccine for one reason or another (at least, as of December 2020). That’s been a common sentiment, due at least in part because of the speed with which the vaccine was developed and approved, although public opinion of the vaccine has been getting better as time has passed. The school and the state are banking on the hope that education about the vaccination will lead to further acceptance.

“We know some people are hesitant to take vaccines, and we know that some populations – because of their jobs, or where they live, or what they’re exposed to in the environment – are more susceptible to bad effects should they get COVID,” said Dr. Alexander Travis, director of the MPH program and professor of reproductive biology at the Baker Institute for Animal Health, in CVM. “The public health corps fellows will be trained to identify communities with special needs and to help give people the information they need to make good choices about getting the vaccine.”

It’s unclear what role the state will play, though presumably they will provide some funding and public health infrastructure and expertise.

“This program is a unique opportunity to make Cornell educators accessible to all New Yorkers, allowing them to learn about critical public health information that can help protect their families and their communities from COVID-19, promote and support their health and well-being, and be better prepared for future public health emergencies,” Provost Michael Kotlikoff said. “We are proud to partner with Governor Cuomo and New York state to make this important program a reality and we look forward to seeing its success.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com