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Meet the women working to fix Pennsylvania’s vaccine rollout

April 2, 2021, 1:05 PM UTC
Pennsylvania had one of the rockiest vaccine rollouts in the U.S.
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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Courteney Ross is the first person who knew George Floyd to testify in Derek Chauvin’s trial, a startup founder describes what happens after an investment by the Duchess of Sussex, and we meet the women working to fix Pennsylvania‘s vaccine rollout . Have a wonderful weekend.

Today’s essay comes from Fortune senior writer Maria Aspan:

– The gift of jab. In January, like so many women across the nation, I took on some of the unpaid care work created by the pandemic: I tried to schedule COVID-19 vaccine appointments for my parents.

At first, I failed. Miserably. It took me a full month of stalking Facebook groups and refreshing pharmacy websites, staying up late and waking up early, to finally score two appointments in the Philadelphia suburbs—almost an hour’s drive away from where my parents actually live. But by then I felt very lucky to find those spots, given everything else that had gone wrong with Pennsylvania’s vaccine rollout.

With more than 24,800 fatalities from COVID-19, Pennsylvania is the state with the fifth-highest pandemic death toll—and, as I report in a new feature for Fortune’s April/May issue, it also has one of the nation’s longest litanies of vaccine stumbles.

“I put all of my faith, and all of my patients’ faith, in the health department—because that’s how it was supposed to work. But the process is broken,” says Christine Meyer, a physician who started a vaccine-finder Facebook group that has now helped more than 13,000 Pennsylvanians get their jabs. “It’s not smooth, it’s not easy, it’s embarrassing in a lot of ways.”

Meyer is one of several Pennsylvania doctors, public-health experts, pharmacy executives, and government officials I spoke with for this article, all of whom are trying to improve a massively complicated vaccine rollout in whatever ways they can—and almost all of whom happen to be women.

“There is a lot of room to improve—and we only want to be moving forward,” Pennsylvania acting Health Secretary Alison Beam told me. She walked me through some of what she’s done logistically since taking office in late January, including paring down the number of providers who get vaccine allocations. And she’s gotten some results: By last week, the state had finally surpassed the national average for distributing its available supply of vaccines.

Yet Pennsylvania, like much of the nation, still lags in equitably distributing its vaccines to the Black and Latinx residents who have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic. “Everyone acknowledges the health disparities. And everybody talks about it—but no one makes an active plan,” say Ala Stanford, the pediatric surgeon who founded Philadelphia’s Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium.

Stanford does have an active plan—and is another female leader making a huge difference in Pennsylvania. Her organization runs walk-up clinics that administer shots only to residents of specific zip Philadelphia codes (usually those hardest-hit by COVID). And since January, it has vaccinated more than 30,000 Philadelphians, more than 80% of whom are people of color.

So as vaccine eligibility and supply continues to expand this spring, in Pennsylvania, and across the nation, women, including Stanford and Beam, will continue working through the inevitable problems—and trying to distribute the jabs efficiently and, hopefully, more equitably.

Read the full story here.

Maria Aspan
maria.aspan@fortune.com
@mariaaspan

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Life before tragedy. At the trial of Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd, Courteney Ross yesterday was the first person to testify who knew Floyd before the day he died. Ross met Floyd in 2017 and was his girlfriend for about three years. She described Floyd as a "mama's boy" and amateur athlete, while also detailing their shared struggle with addiction, stemming for both from opiate prescriptions treating chronic pain. USA Today

- A jolt of caffeine. Late last year, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex made her first public startup investment. The duchess's backing changed everything for Clevr Blends, the instant oat-milk latte company she put her money behind. Cofounder and CEO Hannah Mendoza tells Fortune what the past few months have been like for her business. Fortune

- Living legend. How did Martha Stewart become America's first self-made female billionaire? "I was lucky, and I was smart," the lifestyle guru says. She talks about her latest ventures and path to success in a new interview. Fortune

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Australian wealth manager AMP named Australia and New Zealand Banking Group deputy chief Alexis George its new CEO. Carbon Health added Oliver Wyman senior adviser Julie Smith to its board of directors. Glossier hired L'Oréal exec Kleo Mack as VP of brand. Kara Wilson joins the board of ReliaQuest. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Fertile ground for misinformation. Misinformation on Facebook and Instagram has targeted women, telling them that COVID-19 vaccines can cause infertility. With many of these unproven claims popping up in wellness spaces followed by largely female audiences—and appearing before scientists were able to study vaccinated pregnant women—it's turned out to be a perfect storm of false information. Bloomberg

- Family business. The Los Angeles Times is owned by pharma exec Patrick Soon-Shiong. He's been busy over the past year, with his companies developing COVID-19 vaccines; instead, his daughter, Nika Soon-Shiong, has stepped in. While you might expect journalists to object to interference from an owner's child, many LA Times staffers actually welcome her input; one of her proposals was on how to increase coverage of L.A. communities of color. The Daily Beast

- Lawyer to the stars. Laura Wasser's high-powered approach to her career as a divorce attorney was immortalized by Laura Dern in Marriage Story. But who is the real Wasser? She charges $950 an hour for her services, and she says she'll never discuss a case—but we do know she's handling Kim Kardashian's divorce filing. New York Times

ON MY RADAR

How Nancy Reagan helped end the Cold War Washington Post

The Rosa Parks of D.C. Washington Post

Sexual violence pervades Ethiopia's war New York Times

I spent my life consenting to touch I didn't want New York Times

PARTING WORDS

"I’m always going to need to find a way to explain to people that I don’t think I belong here, but I am here. I think I’m always going to be coming out of the closet, you know what I mean?"

-Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile. Her new memoir is Broken Horses