In April, the Maryland Department of Health released data that showed that Black Marylanders are disproportionately represented among confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19. According to the data, while Black residents make up just under a third of Maryland’s population, the group represents 42.7% of COVID-19 cases and 44% of the deaths from the illness among cases for which race data is known.
On December 11, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the first emergency use authorization (EUA) for a vaccine for the prevention of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The emergency use authorization allows the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to be distributed in the U.S. However, many African-Americans have expressed skepticism about receiving the vaccine.
For Shawn Hendricks, MSN, RN, the high infection rates in communities of color, along with the distrust in a vaccine, coupled with COVID infecting her own family members, were more than enough reasons for her to receive the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine. Hendricks, who is Nursing Director of Medicine, Cardiac Services and the Tele-sitter Program at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMS), happily became the first person vaccinated at UMMS on December 14, 2020.
“I received the vaccine, and am alive, kicking, and here talking about it,” said Hendricks who has worked at the hospital for more than two decades. “I feel proud to have been among the first to take it.”
Henricks was among five UMMS frontline healthcare workers who received the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine as the System begins the process of vaccinating staff members throughout the organization. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is given as an injection into the muscle. The vaccination series is two doses given three weeks apart.
“I had some soreness at the injection site, but that is well within the norm,” she said. “We have to continue to encourage our community at large to get vaccinated. I know the holidays are near and we want to see our family members, but we have to do it differently.”
She added, “Gathering is not going to help, because a person might be asymptomatic. It’s so important for us to stay home, wear masks and gloves, and use sanitizer. Now that a vaccine is available, take it. That’s the only opportunity for us to move into the right direction in terms of normalcy.”
According to a hospital official, UMMS received 3,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, distributed those across the System, and used every one to begin vaccinating staff. They are expecting a resupply, as well as their first shipments of the Moderna vaccine, and will continue the staff vaccinations.
Hendricks, who is a native of Baltimore City, said her mother spent two months recovering from COVID-19, and that her brother and brother-in-law were also diagnosed with the infection.
“It’s tough being away from your family and friends, and not knowing if you are going to live or die. Depression begins to set in. My mother even lost her will to live at one point. Thank God my mom pulled through. She is also a cancer survivor, and just had a birthday.” For those who prefer to wait longer before being vaccinated, Hendricks said: “We have been waiting for over a year now. Over 300,000 dead should say enough. Waiting is not a strategy. We know what waiting has done.”
Sharon Henry, MD, is a Professor of Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and is Director of the Division of Wound Healing and Metabolism at UMMC’s R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. A Shock Trauma physician for 23 years, Dr. Henry also received the vaccine.
“As a trauma surgeon, COVID has turned upside down the way we do business,” said Dr. Henry who also had a family member who was infected with the disease. “So often in the trauma unit, we treat everyone as if they have COVID, and so often we see patients who don’t know their history and turns out they have COVID.”
Like Hendricks, she strongly encourages others to get vaccinated.
“Science did not take any shortcuts in the production of these vaccines,” said Dr. Henry. “Many of the administrative barriers were removed, but Science was not shortcut in any form of fashion.”
She added, “After receiving the vaccine, I feel great. There was some soreness, but that has gone away completely. I have not had fever, fatigue, or any of the other side effects that have been described. My understanding is that those may come after the second dose. We will see.”
Dr. Henry prescribed the following instructions: “Get the vaccine and do all the things the CDC has been preaching.” She added, “We don’t like wearing masks and gloves, and yes, they are not comfortable. But I will put on four masks if I need to in order to prevent the spread of this disease. There are so many at risks right now, and so many who have lost their lives. The benefits outweigh the risks. Waiting is not an option for us at this point. There is light at the end of this tunnel.”