The University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) will hold “Finding Hope on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day – A Town Hall on Understanding the COVID-19 Vaccine” on Monday, January 18, 2021. UMMS will be recognizing the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Observance through the event, which features a statewide virtual conversation via Zoom featuring multiple physician experts discussing COVID-19 vaccine issues, concerns, and questions. The virtual event will take place from 11 am – 12 pm, and is free and open to the public.
Freeman A. Hrabrowski, III, PhD, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and a participant in the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Moderna vaccine clinical trial, will moderate the event.“I participated in the COVID-19 vaccine trial because I believe in the science — and the scientists — behind it,” said Dr. Hrabrowski. “Growing up, I was very aware of the prejudice shown by the medical and scientific community toward Black people. We must recognize the need to put in the work to rebuild trust, particularly at a time when we’re seeing people of color dying of COVID-19 at such high rates.”
According to UMMS, Black people are almost 1.5 times more likely to get COVID-19, and the risk for Latino and Latina populations is almost twice as high. The hospital also noted people in these communities who contract the virus are nearly 4 times more likely to require hospitalization and nearly three times more likely to die. “These statistics are huge,” said Stacy Garrett-Ray, MD, MPH, MBA Vice President/Medical Director of the University of Maryland Medical System’s Population Health Services Organization (PHSO). “It’s not just getting COVID, but what happens when you get it.”
According to UMMS, health co-morbidities such as heart and lung disease, obesity, and diabetes, are linked to COVID-19 complications, and affect Blacks at a higher rate. “We also know lung disease, diabetes, and other diseases increase one’s risk of getting COVID,” said Dr. Garrett-Ray, who is African American. “I want to stress that while we are dealing with COVID, do not take your eyes off maintaining your health care. Get healthy in terms of what we are eating and putting into our bodies. This helps our immune system if we are exposed.”
Town Hall discussion topics will include the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, safety and efficacy, and potential side effects. “We are really excited to be able to do this Town Hall,” said Dr. Garrett-Ray. “It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and it’s understanding the COVID-19 vaccines. People are still questioning the vaccines and want to make informed decisions for themselves and their families. We want to address the concerns that are out there, and answer any questions.”
In December, UMMS began vaccinating staff members throughout the organization with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 and Moderna Vaccines. Dr. Garrett-Ray, who was among the first to be vaccinated, highlighted Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a scientist at the National Institute of (NIH). Dr. Corbett is part of a team at NIH that worked with Moderna. “It’s significant that this vaccine was produced under the leadership of Dr. Corbett,” said Dr. Garrett-Ray. “She is a Black woman and a graduate of UMBC. She led this effort and had been working on this for years. She and her colleagues understand the importance of beginning to rebuild trust through a vaccine that can help all of society.”
She added, “I want to stress, the chances of us getting sick from COVID are much less when you get vaccinated. The vaccines do not have COVID, which is one of the myths. The vaccines help protect us like masks, social distancing, and sanitizer. These vaccines are another tool to help against getting infected with COVID.”
For those who believe it’s best to get COVID to develop immunity, Dr. Garrett-Ray said: “We have an increased chance of death doing that. The immunity you get from getting COVID is not as effective as if you had the vaccine. Exposing yourself to something and not knowing what is going to happen, but includes death is like playing Russian Roulette. Follow the Science. It helps you so that you stay healthy.” In addition to Dr. Garrett-Ray who will answer questions, other Town Hall participants include: David Marcozzi, MD; Fermin Barrueto, Jr., MD, MBA; and Joseph L. Wright, MD, MPH.
“One of the keys is that like Dr. King, this event is all about hope – changing the world and its environment,” said Dr. Garrett-Ray. “Dr. King wanted to make sure all of us have opportunities for having a great future and quality care. Do we have disparities? Yes. But if we lose more and more of our generation to COVID-19, we could wipe out many generations. That is a scary thing to thing to think about when you look at the impact it could have on our community for years to come.”
Pre-registration for the Town Hall is requested at umms.org/FindingHope.
“I encourage people to participate in the Town Hall,” she said. “Whatever we learn, we have to share with others right now. Martin Luther King Day is a day of service. Participants can take information from this Town Hall and share it to others. If that’s the way people are serving on that day, we will take it.”
Other UMMS activities in observance of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday include hospitals collecting messages of hope from staff members and coordinating food drives. The Town Hall will be broadcasted live on the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Facebook page at facebook.com/UMDMedCenter.