Alumna aids COVID-19 vaccine distribution
Katherine Hudak, MBA ‘13, is an expert in vaccine distribution. As a manager in the Country Support team for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Hudak has played a role in multiple vaccine distribution plans. Today, she also works on COVAX, a joint initiative of Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF, to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and ensure equitable access worldwide.
Before Hudak came to Carey Business School, she earned a bachelor’s degree in French and was looking to break into international development. She knew she needed to bolster her quantitative skills with a graduate degree. Her mother, also a Johns Hopkins alumna, encouraged her to explore Carey Business School’s programs.
Once her MBA was under way, it was her Discovery to Market course, where she helped build the business case for bringing a hepatitis C vaccine to market, and her capstone project working in Rwanda, that ultimately set her on the health care path. So Hudak expanded her finance specialization by adding health care business courses.
“The health economics courses definitely gave me a leg up,” Hudak said. “And having Johns Hopkins on my CV really helped me. Most of the people I work with are epidemiologists, have public health degrees, or are doctors. Although I arrived at Gavi with a limited health care background, I was able to quickly adapt the skills I gained from my MBA to these challenges.”
Her MBA helps Hudak stand out in a room of health care specialists.
“I routinely review financial transactions, run analyses, and provide annual reporting on key performance indicators for the board,” she said. “I use my strong quantitative skills to make a robust presentation and then tell a compelling story to help move important ideas and processes forward. I attribute my MBA with the foundational confidence to leverage my specialty in finance across many disciplines.”
Supporting vaccine distribution
After beginning her career as a consultant, including jobs for the African Development Bank, then the Boston Consulting Group and the World Bank, Hudak joined Gavi in the risk department and moved into an operations role in recent years. Gavi supports vaccine distribution fighting 17 different infectious diseases in mostly low-income countries. In the past year through COVAX, the organization has also focused significant attention on the COVID-19 vaccines.
In her role, Hudak works with senior country managers, regional heads, and Gavi’s director of country support to provide strategic and operational help. She has a bird’s eye view of all pieces of the vaccine distribution process.
But distribution is not the only hurdle.
“We know that vaccine hesitancy has been a problem for a long time,” said Hudak, “and with COVID and social media, we’ve realized how persuasive people making false claims can be. It’s still an uphill battle.”
Despite global challenges with vaccine distribution, Hudak is optimistic about the progress. COVAX’s first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire in late February.
“I think it is quite remarkable what the world has been able to achieve in one year with a global, collaborative effort to end the pandemic,” she said. “While we still have a long way to go before everyone receives a vaccine, and we have the rise of variants to contend with, I am hopeful that next year will look very different.”