UMMS virtual town hall addresses vaccine concerns from minority groups

Posted at 7:34 PM, Jan 18, 2021

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Martin Luther King Jr. said "never lose infinite hope", and on his day, the University of Maryland Medical System held a town hall talking about just that: finding hope in the COVID-19 vaccine.

"It has been a struggle but Dr. King told us to remember to keep the hope alive," said said Dr. Freeman Hrabrowski, the president of UMBC.

A year into the pandemic, almost 400,000 Americans have died and the vaccine brings hope for an end.

But distribution is only one of the challenges, when there are large populations who do not trust the science because of history.

"We have a history in this country of performing harmful research on communities of color, of exposing them to unnecessary risks, of not fully explaining the research that we’re doing and treating them as a experiment without their consent," said Dr. Michelle Gourdine, UMMS’ interim Chief Medical Officer.

The goal of the virtual town hall Monday was to ease some of those fears.

"What we have found that’s most important is there was no difference in the effectiveness of the different populations different demographics," said Hrabrowski about the different vaccine trials. He participated in the Moderna trial.

They took questions from the public, about vaccine effectiveness, how it works, and why they chose to get it themselves.

"You cannot get COVID-19 from these vaccines. The vaccines do not contain any part of the live virus," said Dr. David Marcozzi, the UMMS COVID-19 incident commander and senior COVID-19 medical adviser to Gov. Larry Hogan. "We know the COVID-19 vaccines were developed quickly but rest assured, the vaccines were not rushed from a scientific perspective."

Doctors cited the adverse impact on minority groups— who are 1 to 3 times more likely to get COVID-19 and health co-morbidities increase the likelihood of complications.

Panelists also acknowledged the systemic health and social inequities, like lack of access to health care, that make that risk worse; adding that those issues need to be addressed during distribution and the vaccine being free of charge removes one barrier.

"Our communities, our black and brown, our Latino community who carries so much of this COVID burden: 3 times more likely to die, it is so important, especially important, that we are there and getting that vaccine. I cannot stress it enough," said Dr. Stacy Garrett-Ray, VP/Medical Director of UMMS Population Health Services Organization.

"We are sick of this. We are over COVID," said Gourdine. "The only hope we have is this vaccine and folks I’d much rather take my chances with this vaccine than take my chances with a COVID infection."

The panel wasn’t able to answer all the questions submitted, so the UMMS web page called “Finding Hope” will be updated throughout the week with information, and it will also available in Spanish.