The Blog

Addressing the pandemic and vaccine rollouts

Andrew Friend, the winner of the International Association of Emergency Managers’ (IAEM) Emergency Manager of the Year Award in 2020, is now focusing his efforts on the fluctuating situations brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

His advocacy extends to vaccination programs, overall public health and immediate responses to the pandemic.

As the Deputy Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, Friend was questioned about his directives during the initial vaccine rollout. While some were looking to criticize, and making assumptions based on numbers alone, without considering other potential factors, Friend assured the authorities that his methods would be beneficial to the people.

He focused on building capacity so that when greater supplies of vaccines from various manufacturers became available, the state would be able to vaccinate a greater number of citizens. Friend’s strategy resulted in Illinois being the first among the nation’s ten most populous states – and the 18th overall – in per-capita vaccinations in the USA.

In mid-2021, as vaccinations administered in Illinois skyrocketed to about 11 million, and the state got 30% of its population fully protected, there was a new challenge: vaccine hesitancy. Educational websites and continuous pleas to the public could only achieve so much.

Friend, along with Dr. Ngozi Ezike, proposed a “convenience vaccination” strategy, allowing primary healthcare providers to administer jabs, rather than insisting residents visit mass vaccination sites. This strategy helped ease people’s minds because they were receiving it from trusted sources, as opposed to lining up in huge numbers at an impersonal mass site.

In addition to his active engagement in vaccine rollouts, Friend also conducted operations and strategic commands for the state, and collaborated with the Illinois National Guard to deploy troops, who administered more than 1.7 million vaccinations by the end of May, 2021. He established camaraderie with local, state and federal partners by negotiating and building relationships to execute a better state response.

One of around 2,000 Certified Emergency Managers in the world, Friend’s efforts earned him a stellar reputation in the field, and that coveted Emergency Manager of the Year Award, presented on October 20 at the IAEM 69th Annual Conference & EMEX in Grand Rapids, Michigan.