PKG Social Impact Internships: Brindha Rathinasabapathi (’24)
Science & Public Health Policy: Working As A COVID-19 Response Intern
My name is Brindha Rathinasabapathi, and I’m a first year student from Gainesville, FL. I plan on pursuing a major in biology (Course 7). Scientific research – especially medicine & biochemistry – is my greatest passion, and I’ve been doing it for years. But alongside my academic interests, I’ve also committed myself to service & volunteerism. Giving back to my community and supporting those around me is an important priority to me. In high school, I was involved in service in a number of different ways, from organizing my school’s first Science Symposium Day, to planning fun STEM activities for children at the local library, to raising money for a community services organization in India named Payir.
One of the reasons that I came to MIT was that I saw my own values reflected in the MIT community. There is an emphasis on teamwork and collaboration to achieve the most good. Our motto, mens et manus, encourages us to apply our academic skills to making a tangible positive difference in the world. After enrolling at MIT, I sought to make my difference through service. I found the Priscilla King Gray (PKG) Public Service Center, which connects students to the resources they need to get started in volunteerism and philanthropy.
It’s through the PKG Center that I gained a remote internship with the City of Miami Beach Mayor’s Office. Most of my work focuses on the local government’s response to COVID-19. I only started this internship a few weeks ago, but I’m already learning a lot of interesting things.
I chose this internship because I was interested in the intersection between scientific discovery and the implementation of public health policy. I’ve been exposed to much of what goes on in the process of innovation, but I hadn’t previously known how such innovations were implemented to help the general public. By working with the City of Miami Beach, and aiding in their COVID-19 vaccine rollout program, I’ve gained insight as to how public health policy works.
As a COVID-19 response intern, I’ve been researching vaccine hesitancy, and brainstorming ways to encourage people to get vaccinated. The situation is more complicated than I anticipated. People aren’t just worried about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine (though this is to be expected). There are other social factors that play a role in people’s trust of the vaccination process. In communities of color, the US government’s history of medical racism can make it difficult for people to believe that the vaccine is safe for them. Immigrants may be afraid that the information they give at vaccination sites can be used to track them down or deport them. People of certain political backgrounds may be unwilling to get vaccinated simply because others in their party have distrusted the vaccine, with little regard to the scientific studies behind it.
All of these issues are valid, and must be acknowledged. Coming up with material to address each of these concerns is a tricky balancing act, but I’ve been doing my best to do so. The vaccine has thus far been almost 100% effective in preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19, so getting as many people as possible vaccinated is key. By doing thorough research, working with my supervisor & other interns, and attending various informational meetings (including White House IGA briefings), I’ve been working toward this goal.
My internship with the City of Miami Beach is providing me with a better understanding of the factors at play when trying to aid the public with scientific discovery. Consideration shouldn’t stop after creation. As a scientist, I believe that it’s important to think beyond the immediate discovery, and contemplate how it will impact the world at large. After all, an innovation doesn’t have much of an impact if its reception is abysmal, or if it is inaccessible to the general public. This internship has given me a broader perspective that will better inform my decisions as I pursue my career. I’m very grateful to the PKG Center for providing this opportunity, and I can’t wait to discover more as my internship progresses.
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