Alumna addresses messy topic of vaccine allocation

Dr. Alison Buttenheim '87 spoke to an Exeter assembly about her work deciding who gets what, when.

November 16, 2020

Dr. Alison Buttenheim '87 (top left) is introduced to an online assembly audience by English Instructor Alex Myers as Osiris Russell-Delano '21 and Charlotte Lisa '21 look on.

As news broke about the development of a promising COVID-19 vaccine, Exeter had the pleasure of hearing from an alumna helping to decide who will get it first.

Dr. Alison Buttenheim '87, fresh off her work with a National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine committee studying vaccine distribution, addressed assembly Nov. 13. The committee was tasked with recommending "equitable allocation" of a vaccine knowing that supplies will fall far short of demand in the short term once a vaccine is approved. Its report was made public last month.

Buttenheim, a self-described "Classics nerd" during her days as a student at Exeter, is now professor at the University of Pennsylvania, a social scientist and public-health researcher. She was chosen to serve on the committee because of her expertise in the field of vaccine acceptance and vaccine exemption policy.

Buttenheim was also part of the team at Penn that oversaw the clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Moderna. She spoke of the challenges of providing thorough representation by race/ethnicity and other characteristics in the trial. "Now that conversation becomes how do we promote and support participation in the vaccine" in communities mistrustful of its effects.

Watch Dr. Buttenheim's Q&A with Osiris Russell-Delano '21 and Charlotte Lisa '21: