September 22, 2020

Transcript: Dr. Jeff Balser announces a new anti-racism task force and gives an update on VUMC’s leadership role in the COVID-19 battle

Dr. Jeff Balser talks about dealing with the various challenges that are critical to the well-being of our VUMC community and our world, including racial equality efforts and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.


Hi Everyone…

As we head into the fall, we continue to deal with challenges that are critical to the well-being of our VUMC community and our world. First, we have begun to confront the harsh reality that our country and our communities harbor serious and longstanding deficiencies in racial equality. Even as we launched our own anti-racism efforts, there are new, tragic reminders of ongoing racial injustice.

On Aug. 23, 29-year-old Jacob Blake, a Black man, was left paralyzed by a police officer who shot him seven times in the back, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. This shooting, in broad daylight, was captured on video and replayed around the world. Jacob Blake’s name is now added to a growing list of African American victims of police brutality, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude and others. I am deeply saddened by these incidents — and by the violence that followed.

These events serve as a poignant reminder that we must do more. In July, we announced a workplan aimed at ensuring that even as we bring more people of color into VUMC — to have care, to study or work — they experience equality and fairness. We have already begun to deliver anti-racism training to our senior leaders — over 70 people have been trained so far in full-day workshops, including me. And our new anti-racism task force representing staff, faculty and students is hard at work identifying key steps to eliminating racism at VUMC.

I’ve been here so long I’m fond of saying VUMC is my second home. It’s with that perspective that I commit to addressing these issues. Because I believe we are all committed to making this medical center a place of hope and healing for everyone and leaving no one behind.

In addition, COVID-19 remains a serious threat, here and worldwide. You may have noticed from national media that VUMC is playing a leadership role in finding safe and effective therapies. Among many exciting efforts, we are leading the 51-site NIH trial examining whether convalescent plasma from COVID-19 survivors is safe and effective in hospitalized patients with COVID-19. And we are also a major enrollment site for the 30,000-person clinical trial of the NIH-developed COVID-19 vaccine. We are thankful to the incredibly dedicated research teams making these studies possible, and to the diverse group of volunteers who are helping so many other people through their participation.

Because we are hosting these high-visibility clinical trials, I’m often asked when we will be able to provide these treatments to other patients. Well, the answer is very important and can’t be said too clearly. Vanderbilt is a place that has worked for well over a century to gain public trust. One way we’ve done that is by making decisions based on the very best science. For new treatments, that science includes convincing data showing new treatments are both safe and effective. So, the clinical trial data must be 1) reviewed by our peers at other leading medical centers, 2) approved by all the necessary regulatory agencies, and 3) finally, endorsed by our own experts. Yes, we make the final decision to administer a new treatment right here at VUMC. In this case, we are especially fortunate as several of the nation’s top experts in vaccine development are right here on our campus. They will play a major role in guiding our decisions.

We are all optimistic that science will eventually solve COVID-19, but getting clear results from the clinical trials will take time. Most of the key trials are only beginning and will last well into the next calendar year. So, it is very clear we will all be living and working around this virus for the foreseeable future.

Stay safe and remain vigilant. Your caring work and your continued good health are vital — we are all essential to the health of this community.

Thank you for everything you do. We’ll talk again.